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From Russia with love

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Mihir Bose | 18:24 UK time, Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Judging by the hotels the two teams occupy in Moscow it is very clear that Chelsea are the home team and the club feels like it owns the place.

Chelsea are at the Ritz-Carlton, a few metres from Red Square and not far from where the Champions League trophy has been on display for the last few days.

The Chelsea players, in the unlikely event they felt like it, would only have to walk a few minutes to join the queues to see the trophy.

Visiting the Ritz-Carlton I was struck by the opulence it exudes.

Along the driveway were the swanky cars that advertise the wealth that has come to some in Russia since the fall of the Communism.

On the pavement opposite the entrance was a small knot of supporters, looking and behaving much like fans who gather outside the premier of a new Hollywood release, deferential and expectant.

Inside were hotel residents having their afternoon tea and cakes while Chelsea players and officials wandered round, most of them in their track suits and Michael Ballack looking the picture of calm assurance in his slippers.

By contrast, the Manchester United team hotel, the Crown Plaza, gives off the air of a circus.

There are swarms of people, crowds galore and a few of the United party are not too happy with the facilities and some have even had to change their rooms.

This was the hotel in 2001 where the International Olympic Committee chose Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and Jacques Rogge was elected President in succession to Juan Antonio Samaranch. I myself spent a whole week in this hotel then covering the Olympic gathering.

While the Ritz-Carlton proclaims the riches of the new Russia, the Crown Plaza is more old Russia.

The reason why the two teams are in such different hotels is easy to understand.

As Uefa does with all finalists it offered each club two hotels.

United accepted one of them but Chelsea, owned by Roman Abramovich, one of the richest men in the world and one of Russia's favourite sons, had no need to and could choose its own hotel and choose the best in Moscow.

The fact that they are staying in such different surroundings should, of course, have no impact on who wins Wednesday's match but for what is it worth talking to the locals it is clear they do not see this English battle in Moscow as nothing to do with them.

Andriy Shevchenko leaves Chelsea's hotel

Chelsea is their team with certain Chelsea players like Andrei Shevchenko firm favourites.

After 24 hours in Moscow and wandering round the city including Red Square the Englishness of this unique occasion is yet to strike home.

There were more Liverpool fans in Athens main square last year or for that matter Arsenal fans in Paris two years ago than I have seen either Chelsea or Manchester United fans so far.

It is possible most are coming in and out just for the day, while many will also have been put off by the cost of travel and the difficulty of getting into the country.

This has not stopped the Football Supporters Federation producing a brochure to help incoming fans, welcome proof that for all the tribalism of English supporters football fans can come together when they really put their minds to it.

However there is already a 'them and us' attitude developing not so much between Chelsea and Manchester United fans but between Moscow and London. Or should I say Manchester.

At Tuesday's Uefa press conference, Uefa president Michel Platini was asked questions by the British media both about the state of the pitch and the state of Moscow's infrastructure, congested roads, inadequate hotels and transport bottlenecks.

Should Uefa have brought the final to Moscow, asked the British media?

The questions reflected the complaints of fans, some of which have been made to me as well. Moscow, they feel, is just not ready for such an event.

But I was struck by the reaction this produced from Russian journalists.

They spoke very critically of Manchester staging the Uefa Cup final last week, how the organisers there had failed the Russian fans miserably, that they had had problems with the transport, could not go out of their hotels, and what is more, there was a riot.

The message was clear - if the British are to complain about Moscow the Russians already have enough ammunition about British inadequacies as revealed in Manchester.

Russia is intensely proud to stage this first Champions League final on its soil and the more the British complain the more we shall see a battle between Britain and Russia.

Organisers and fans will hope such a conflict doesn't materialise, and that the only contest remains on the much-debated pitch at the Luzhniki stadium.


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