The first planeloads of Manchester United and Chelsea fans touched down in Moscow yesterday as Russian authorities made the final preparations for tomorrow night's Champions League final.
Up to 50,000 British fans are expected in the Russian capital for the match, which could stretch the city's infrastructure to breaking point. All hotel accommodation has been booked up for weeks.
Roads to the city's airports are crippled by traffic jams at the best of times so the Russians have set aside special lanes for football traffic, which is likely to paralyse ordinary traffic even more than usual.
With kick-off not until 10.45pm local time (7.45pm BST), there are concerns about the heavy handed tactics of Russia's feared Omon riot police, who have been tasked with dealing with any crowd trouble. In the wake of last week's riots in Manchester, critics have pointed out that allowing plenty of time for fans to drink during the hours leading up to the game could be problematic.
On Sunday, the Omon, best known internationally for their crushing of opposition rallies and gay parades, held training exercises in the Luzhniki Stadium aimed at dealing with potential disturbances.
Pyotr Soprikin, an Omon commander, said he had seen videos of English football hooligans but that his men weren't scared. "I'm a football fan and I've seen how the British supporters behave," he said. "They're like small children compared to Russian fans. There are sometimes problems in the street, but I'm sure we'll manage it."
One of the main security strategies is to keep fans of the two teams apart as much as possible. Different airports have been allocated to receive the charter flights of the two clubs, with United fans flying into the modern Domodedovo airport in the south of Moscow, and Chelsea fans using the Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo terminals in the north and west of the city respectively. The plan is to bus them into "camps" near the ground, which will maintain the separation between the teams.
Very few Moscow policemen speak English, and are usually best avoided by tourists, who frequently report that, rather than acting as a source of help or information, the police make threats and solicit bribes. But officers have been put on their best behaviour for the final, and 300 have been found who speak some basic words in the language of the fans.
"We'll be having English translators around the stadium, in the metro and in Red Square," Vyacheslav Kozlov, one of Moscow's top police officials, told journalists recently.
British police officers from the Metropolitan and Greater Manchester forces flew into Moscow yesterday, where they were holding meetings with their Russian counterparts.
With the match ticket doubling up as a visa, fans are being advised to try their hardest not to lose them. Russian officials will, however, be on hand at the airport to sell exit visas to fans who have mislaid theirs.
The Champions League trophy was on display in Red Square yesterday. Where there are usually queues to see the mummified Lenin in his mausoleum, a mostly Russian crowd waited for up to three hours to get a glimpse of the coveted prize.
And the occasion had a whiff of intrigue about it yesterday. Chelsea have been forced to deny reports that Frank Lampard, their England midfielder, will play his last game for the club in tomorrow night's final and will soon move to Internanazionale.Reuse content