Football: Spartak ready for `third leg' grudge match

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The Independent Online
Spartak Moscow appealed to rival fans to turn out and support them in tonight's controversial Uefa Cup replay against Switzerland's Sion, a grudge match for much of the Russian soccer community.

Uefa, in ordering a re-match on Friday, had stated the game would be played at Moscow's Luzhniki Olympic stadium but Spartak will now stage the match at the same ground where Sion complained the goals were too small.

"The coaches haven't had to get us in the mood for this match," Andrei Tikhonov, Spartak's international winger, said yesterday. "The Swiss have already seen to that."

Russian fans were incensed by Sion's insistence on measuring the goalposts at Lokomotiv stadium as the original first-round second-leg match on 30 September was due to kick off.

The match went ahead after a half-hour delay. The 2-2 draw should have put Spartak through 3-2 on aggregate. But Uefa later upheld Sion's complaint that both crossbars were too low.

Last Friday, it rejected a Sion appeal to be awarded a 3-0 technical victory and insisted on a replay in Moscow - despite Sion's complaints they would face an intimidating atmosphere.

Moscow police said they were taking no special security measures. But the Swiss were booked into a hotel known for its high security and favoured by visiting politicians, including the US President, Bill Clinton.

"Sion may or may not want to, but by Uefa's ruling they are fated to return to square one and more precisely to the Lokomotiv ground where their president, Monsieur Constantin, so much enjoyed himself in the pouring rain measuring the height of the goalposts," Alexander Lvov, Spartak's spokesman, said.

"This strange hobby helped him get a Euro cup `third leg' to settle relations with Spartak. And so we have a new meeting of, clearly not of friends but, as before, of opponents." He called on rival Moscow fans to turn out and cheer for Spartak.

Uefa officials said last Friday the match would be transferred to Moscow's newly-refurbished 82,000 seat Luzhniki Olympic stadium for security reasons.

But Spartak said the pitch had been too badly damaged in Russia's 4-2 World Cup qualifying win over Bulgaria on Saturday and the match would now be staged at the 24,000-seat Lokomotiv ground Spartak rents from Lokomotiv Moscow.