Torpedo Moscow guaranteed a place in the Football National League, Russian football’s second tier, on Monday evening, playing to a scoreless draw with neighboring Khimki at Eduard Streltsov Stadium in Moscow.
Light rain fell on the fans and the players in the early going. About 3000 spectators attended the match, including 60-70 Khimki supporters.
Torpedo needed at least a draw to ensure a place in the FNL next season, while Khimki looked for the same to keep its survival hopes alive. The Red and Black trailed Metallurg-Kuzbass by three points with two matches to play and a game in hand.
Torpedo had a chance three minutes in. Tadas Labukas whipped Denis Boyarintsev’s corner at Khimki goalie Aleksandr Budakov, but the 28 year old just nabbed the ball on the line.
The visitors countered with several corners in the opening 15 minutes, which Torpedo cleared with ease.
As the rain abated and fans began to pack the two central sections in the Vostok stand, the first anti-administration cheer rang out, concise and to the point, “Administration, go away!”
Torpedo fans made a stir last fall when they forced a Russian Cup match vs Dynamo Moscow, played here at Eduard Streltsov Stadium, to be abandoned early in the second half. Torpedo were assigned technical defeat by the Russian Football Union’s Disciplinary Committee and handed a three-match spectator ban, an important precedent, incidentally, for the controversial Dynamo – Zenit RPL match almost two months later.
In the Cup match, fans threw flares on the field in protest of club president Aleksandr Tukmanov and other Torpedo officials. The conflict stretches back several years, with the fans publishing a letter this April 26th, in which they made nine separate demands to club leadership, including a call for team director N.I. Kuzmin to be fired and Tukmanov to admit his ineptitude at running the team and personal role in ruining relations between the fans and the club.
Earlier this spring the club also announced that fans in the Zapad-5 section, the nearly 30-year-old home for Torpedo’s most dedicated supporters, would need to register passport numbers with the club, ostensibly to improve communication. The Zapad-5 crowd refused and has since moved to the Vostok stand, stirring up support from football fans across the country who view the introduction of identification measures as an attack on their privacy and individual rights.
There wouldn’t, however, be any incidents on Monday. Though their distaste for the administration was expressed in song every 15 minutes, support for the team on the field was the focus, with relegation still a possibility.
The home team’s best chance in the first half came in the 40th minute. Former Rubin and Spartak winger Denis Boyarintsev sent in a free kick that Budakov punched outside the box. The ball came to Nikita Bezlikhotnov, whose volley collided with the crossbar before sailing harmlessly on.
Boyarintsev had another chance a few minutes later on the break, but his effort skied high above the goal.
The half ended with Torpedo looking like the better side and most likely to open the scoring. Ghanaian defender Edward Klodo keyed a busy Khimki back line. His speed and agility shut down several Black and White chances.
The majority of the crowd was gathered in the Vostok stand, with perhaps 500 watching from the pricier Zapad bleachers. With traffic noise muted, the Vostok songs reverberated against the opposite bleachers, leaving no doubt that Aleksandr Tukmanov, if he was in attendance, could hear fans cheerfully labeling him “a smelly cur” at full throat.
In the first 25 minutes of the second half, apart from Torpedo midfielder Yuri Gazinsky’s run into the box that fizzled out, Khimki were far more threatening.
Torpedo wide back Lukas Tesak played the biggest role in stopping the Khimki onslaught, but only the crossbar saved Black and White goalie Aleksandr Dovbnya in the 69th. Mikhail Komkov took a corner and Khimki defender Vladislav Khatazhenkov looked to have headed home the winner, but it glanced off the bar and fell harmlessly in the box for a Torpedo defender to clear.
As if sensing the team’s need for a morale boost, Vostok reached its loudest near the 70-minute mark. Cheers of “Black…Whites; Black…Whites” hit fever pitch and the players responded.
Boyarintsev connected on a cross and sent the ball on goal, but Budakov knocked it away. A Torpedo teammate went for an adventurous bicycle kick on the rebound, and had a chance, but Budakov lunged and knocked that effort out for a corner.
Torpedo regained control from there and Khimki barely threatened for the rest of the night. The home team, however, were not much sharper.
The last-gasp chance came in extra time. Tesak, lively all night, drove down the line and crossed the ball through a nearly empty box. Vladimir Obukhov raced to connect at the other end, but a Khimki defender beat him to it and he went crashing into the ad barrier behind the goal.
The match ended a few minutes later and Torpedo players congratulated each other, mission accomplished, albeit just barely. Several trotted to the Vostok stand and hurled jerseys to the crowd, which applauded and sang in response.
Torpedo travel to Kaliningrad to play Baltika on Saturday, while Khimki will wrap the season at home against last-place Volgar. Three points at Rodina Stadium will keep Valery Petrakov’s club up, if Metallurg-Kuzbass are beaten by Neftkhimik.
Author: Andy Shenk
I discovered football when my family moved to Russia in the early 2000′s. I’ll never forget sprinting around my house after Russia qualified for Euro 2008, belting out the Russian national anthem. Since 2011, I’ve supported Anzhi in all its inspiring glory and heartbreaking dysfunction. Also Andrei Eschenko’s #1 American fan.