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The Independent Online

The Black Sea town of Sochi, once a favourite resort with the Soviet Union's communist elite, is facing a footballing invasion when the 1997 n League season opens next week.

No fewer than eight clubs have been ordered to play their first two home games on neutral grounds after failing to install undersoil heating, as the n authorities try to eliminate postponements due to frozen pitches.

Sochi's Central stadium stages four matches on the first weekend of the season: Sochi's own club, Zhemchuzhina, host the champions, Spartak Moscow, and Rotor Volgograd play Chernomorets Novorossiisk on 16 March. The following day Dynamo-Gazovik Tyumen meet Rostselmash Rostov and Fakel Voronezh play Zenit St Petersburg. Another club, Shinnik Yaroslavl from the northern Volga, will play their first "home" game against Torpedo Moscow at Krasnodar.

Rotor Volgograd are most displeased. "The whole city has waited all through a long winter to see Rotor play and this decision is not in the interests of football," Alexander Pavlov, a club official, said.


Two Albanian World Cup qualifying matches will be moved from the troubled Balkan country and played in neutral countries, Fifa ruled yesterday. Albania's 29 March home game against Ukraine and the 2 April game against Germany will be staged at venues to be announced today.