Abramovich investment pays off as CSKA aims for UEFA Cup trophy

Chelsea isn't the only team to benefit from Roman Abramovich's billions.

CSKA Moscow, which will face Sporting Lisbon in the UEFA Cup final on Wednesday, is sponsored by Sibneft - an oil company owned by Abramovich. The company pays the former Soviet army team €14.3 million (US$18 million) per year.

CSKA, the first Russian club to reach a European final in 33 years, is led by Brazilians Vagner Love and Daniel Carvalho, and a core of Russian internationals, including 19-year-old goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and winger Yuri Zhirkov.

"The team is on form, our expectations are very good," Love told UEFA's Web site. "We are motivated and focused and I think CSKA can win this trophy."

No Russian team has ever won a European title, and CSKA's task will be tough when it faces Sporting on its home field - Jose Alvalade Stadium - with fewer than 2,000 Russian fans expected in the sellout crowd of 45,000.

"You have an advantage when you are playing in front of your own crowd, with the stadium completely full," said Love, who came to CSKA from Palmeiras last year. "That gives an extra motivation to the players. Sporting will have this, but CSKA are playing well at the moment and it's a final so anything can happen."

Sporting is the second Portuguese club to play in the UEFA Cup final in three years. FC Porto, which also won the Champions League last year under coach Jose Mourinho, won Europe's No. 2 competition in 2003. Mourinho now coaches Chelsea, which is owned by Abramovich.

Wednesday's match will be CSKA's 19th in Europe this season, equaling the record for the most ever. The Russian team started in the second qualifying round of the Champions League, then went on the group stage before dropping into the UEFA Cup.

CSKA, which reached the quarterfinals of the 1972 European Champions Cup, was founded in 1923 by the Red Army to boost the fitness of Russian soldiers.

The club provided the bulk of players to the Soviet soccer team at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. After a loss to Yugoslavia, it was disbanded by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

The club was revived in 1953, and seven years later took the name CSKA Moscow.

Soviet clubs won the Cup Winners' Cup three times - Dynamo Kiev in 1975 and '86, and Dinamo Tbilisi in 1981 - but the closest a Russian team has come was in 1972 when Dynamo Moscow reached the Cup Winners' Cup final.

Sporting coach Jose Peseiro is trying to dampen the euphoria among home fans, recalling last year's European Championship when host Portugal lost to Greece in the final at Benfica's Estadio da Luz.

Peseiro, a former assistant coach at Real Madrid under Carlos Queiroz, is wary that the underdog Russians could spring a surprise.

"It's going to be a game between a team that has nothing to lose and one that has everything to lose," Peseiro said. "I expect their coach to make the most of that, quietly working hard and making the most of the pressure that's on us."

Sporting's only European trophy was in 1964 when it beat MTK Budapest to win the Cup Winners' Cup. In that year's quarterfinals, Sporting lost at Manchester United 4-1 but won the return leg 5-0 despite playing a team that featured Bobby Charlton and George Best.

Associated Press

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