Moscow prepares for an English invasion

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The Independent Online

It is a truth learnt the hard way by invading armies since Napoleon's time – the march on Moscow is fraught with danger. For the 50,000 British football fans set to travel to the Russian capital next month to watch the firstall-English Champions League final, Tolstoy's lessons of history were being mulled over with a mounting sense of dismay.

Paul Scholes' winning goal for Manchester United against Barcelona on Tuesday night ensured that the nightmare most feared by Uefa, European football's governing body, would come true. Tens of thousands of United fans will now travel 1,500 miles for the privilege of watching their team play against their Premier League rivals Chelsea, who beat Liverpool 4-3 on aggregate at Stamford Bridge last night.

Many fear that Moscow is simply not capable of hosting the influx, with a Foreign Office official warning that there are no hotel vacancies in the city around 21 May when the final takes place. A war of words has also broken out between London and Moscow over the system of granting visas for travel into both countries.

Fans are calling for the game to be moved closer to home, with Wembley the preferred option. It is not only bigger than Moscow's Luzhniki stadium, but would also save them the cost of travelling to Russia. For some this will top £1,000 per person, but other canny supporters have secured 1p tickets to Latvia, from where they plan to make the 15-hour onward journey by train.

There are also concerns that Russia's security forces could crack down hard on rowdy English fans, many of whom will eschew the delights of the Bolshoi or the Pushkin Museum before kick-off in favour of the city's notoriously cheap vodka. The match does not take place until just before midnight local time.

The Russian embassy in London said yesterday that it would employ additional staff to ensure all fans would be able to travel to the match, while callers to the Visit Russia hotline were reassured that they would receive their visas within eight working days – after paying the £100 fee. But Russia has hit back at Britain, saying that Zenit St Petersburg supporters hoping to travel to the Uefa Cup final at the City of Manchester stadium on 14 May were being held up by the insistence that they undergo a biometric test and personal interviews with British officials.

"We feel certain that the situation would have been far less complicated if the British Government had not chosen to suspend negotiations on a bilateral visa facilitation agreement with Russia and to impose a stricter approach to Russian nationals applying for UK visas," it said.

With the final doing little to thaw Anglo-Russian relations, currently in the deep freeze following the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London two years ago, British diplomats were warning English fans to take care. It is an offence to drink or smoke in Red Square, while Russia has a zero-tolerance policy towards foreigners with drugs.

John Butler, of the Manchester United Supporters Club, said: "It is absurd having it in Moscow. Trouble is almost inevitable – and the consequences there will be much more severe."

Russian for football fans

Food and drink

"Four bottles of Baltika and a portion of shashliki please – hold the polonium."

"Chetyire butylku Baltiku i portsiya Shashlik pozhalsta – polonium nyet."

Culture

"I very much admire the works of Dostoevsky but have you read My Story So Far by Wayne Rooney?"

"Ya ochen lyuoblyu sochineniya Dostoevskovo a vyi izychili 'Moya povest do sikh por' y Yuaina Roonovo?"

Transport

"How much is a taxi to the stadium from my hotel in Vladivostock?"

"Skolko taksi v stadion ot moei gostinitsu v Vladivostoke?"

Sport

"Yes we have very good gymnasts in England – Didier Drogba is a first-class tumbler."

"Da, u nac v Anglii ochen khoroshie gimnasti – Didier Drogda yest pervoklassnyi akrobat."

Post-match chat

"Thank you Moscow. Now how the hell do I get out of here?"

"Spasibo Moskva. A seichas kakim obrazom ya pobegu?"

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