World Cup 2018 City Guide: Moscow

Moscow at a Glance
Population: 12.2m
Stadia: Luzhniki and Spartak Stadium
Number of matches: 13

Russia – Saudi Arabia (opening match Luzhniki)
Argentina – Iceland (Spartak Stadium)
Germany – Mexico (Luzhniki)
Poland – Senegal (Spartak Stadium)
Portugal – Morocco (Luzhniki)
Belgium – Tunisia (Spartak Stadium)
Denmark – France (Luzhniki)
Serbia – Brazil (Spartak Stadium)
B1 – A2 Round of 16 (Luzhniki)
H1 – G2 Round of 16 (Spartak Stadium)
Semifinal (Luzhniki)
Final (Luzhniki)

The main city of the 2018 World Cup in Russia is naturally the capital, Moscow. As the only of the eleven host cities to contain more than one stadium holding games, most visiting fans, as well as teams, will have to go through the capital at one point or another. It is naturally also in Moscow that the tournament’s main stadium, Luzhniki, is based, which means it’ll host both the opening fixture and the final.

 

The World Cup Stadia

Luzhniki

Luzhniki is the main stadium of the World Cup. It stood ready in 1956, when the Soviet Union, after experiencing enormous success at the 1952 Olympics, decided to build a stadium worthy of hosting international sports events. At the time it was known as Lenin Central Stadium, and it has certainly hosted major events.

In 1980, Luzhniki was the main stadium at the summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow, and famously boycotted by the USA. In 1992, the stadium received its current name, and it has continued to host major events. In 1999 it laid ground to the UEFA Cup Final, and in 2008 Chelsea and Manchester United met in the Champions League final, which the latter won. In 2013, it furthermore hosted the World Athletics Championships, and once the World Cup is over, it will be one of just five stadiums in the world to have hosted the Champions League final, a World Cup final and been the main stadium at the summer Olympics. The other stadiums are Wembley in London, Olympiastadion in both Berlin and Munich and Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Luzhniki has obviously also been the home of both the Soviet and Russian national team, while numerous cup finals have also been played at the stadium. Spartak Moscow has also rented the stadium for many years, and it was during a Spartak game, that Luzhniki had its darkest chapter. During a UEFA Cup game in 1982, at least 66 people were trampled to death in the country’s worst stadium disaster ever.

READ MORE: The Black Secret of Luzhniki – Between Memory and Oblivion

 

Spartak Stadium

Spartak Stadium is, as the name suggests, the home ground of Spartak Moscow. Normally, the stadium goes by the name Otkritie Arena, but FIFA doesn’t allow sponsor names at the World Cup. The stadium opened in September 2014, when Spartak played a friendly game against Red Star Belgrade, whom the fans have close relations with.

Outside of the stadium, a large statue of a gladiator guards the ground as Spartak is named after Roman gladiator rebel Spartacus. Outside the stadium one also find a small statue of club legend Fedor Cherenkov, and inside Spartak have honoured the legendary Starostin brothers with a monument.

Luzhniki Stadium. Photo: RFN/James Nickels

Moscow’s History

Moscow’s history can be traced back to 1147 when it was mentioned for the first time. At the time, it was nothing more than a small village with Kievan Rus in the ascendancy, but this soon changed. Since the 14th century, Moscow has been the main city of its area, but in 1712, Peter the Great moved the capital to the newly founded St. Petersburg, and for almost 200 years, Moscow was suddenly Russia’s second city.

However, after the October Revolution in 1917, Vladimir Lenin opted to promote Moscow to the capital once again. The father of the Soviet Union feared an invasion and having sea-based Leningrad (renamed first Petrograd and then Leningrad post-revolution) as capital was seen as too risky. Therefore, the control over the country returned to Moscow and the Moscow Kremlin, where it has stayed ever since.

After the October Revolution, much of Moscow’s religious scenery was destroyed, including the iconic Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The cathedral was demolished to make room for a Palace of the Soviets, but due to the invasion of Nazi Germany, the construction was never finished. Instead, a giant open swimming pool was built.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the cathedral has been completely rebuilt, and the Orthodox church is once again visible at street view.

Today, Moscow is furthermore one of the greenest capitals in the world with over 40 percent of its total territory covered by greenery. It is thus always possible to find a green spot and relax despite the city being densely populated

 

Football in Moscow

Moscow is not only the political capital of Russia, it is also the football capital. It is in Moscow we find the majority of the biggest clubs, while the city has also given birth to a number of the biggest football legends.

The city’s leading clubs are Spartak, CSKA, Lokomotiv, Dinamo and lastly Torpedo. The red-whites of Spartak have been the most successful of the five clubs with a total of 22 championships, Soviet and Russian combined. The first title was secured in 1936 and the latest in 2017, proving how consistent the club has been.

As for the rest of the four clubs, they have practically taken turns of challenging Spartak at the top of the league. Dinamo had its prime in the 1940s and 1950s. Unlike many of the Soviet Union’s other football clubs, Dinamo managed to keep it’s best players away from the front of World War II, and in the subsequent years, the club managed to attract several of the country’s leading players. This saw Dinamo win seven championships between 1945 and 1963, but since then they have only won a single championship.

READ MORE: Spartak – Dinamo: Moscow’s Forgotten Derby

Just like Dinamo, CSKA, the club of the army, also stood strongly after the end of World War II. The red-blues won five championships between 1946 and 1951, and it could probably have won even more had it not been for Joseph Stalin. CDKA – their old moniker – made up most of the team that went to the 1952 Olympics, and when the side lost to Communist archrivals Yugoslavia, the dictator ordered the team disbanded and the best players to Dinamo. Following Stalin’s death in 1954, CSKA was re-established, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the team got back on the top. By the time, CSKA had been purchased by oligarch Evgeny Giner, who still runs it today.

Torpedo’s prime was in the 1960s when the likes of Valentin Ivanov and Eduard Streltsov led the team. Streltsov was known as the Soviet Pele, but unfortunately, he never reached the heights of his Brazilian counterpart. At the peak of his career, he was arrested and falsely accused and convicted of rape. Streltsov then spent six seasons away from football, some of them in GULAG. However, he eventually returned to Torpedo, and the club thanked for his services by naming their stadium after him.

Torpedo are far from their former glory these days, as the club is currently playing in the Professional Football League, Russia’s third tier.

The last of Moscow’s five big clubs is Lokomotiv Moscow. Although a famous name among football fans all over the world these days, the club hasn’t traditionally been among the city’s elite. Lokomotiv won the Soviet Cup in 1936 and had a good couple of years in the late 1950s when it won another cup and finished runners-up in the top flight, but apart from that Lokomotiv was largely irrelevant. This changed with the introduction of Yuri Semin as head coach in 1986. Semin, who still coaches Lokomotiv today, lifted them from irrelevance to the elite. With Semin on the sideline, Lokomotiv now won two championships and seven cup trophies.

READ MORE: Yuri Semin: The Holy Man of Russian Football

A big part of the story of the Muscovite football clubs is also their historic political allegiances. CSKA used to belong to the army, which it still has close ties to, while Dinamo was a part of the police. Lokomotiv, as the name suggests, is owned by the Russian Railways, RZD, while Torpedo belonged to an automobile factory. Spartak was the odd one out, as it had no official ties to the Soviet authorities, thus making it somewhat independent and granting it the nickname, the People’s Club.

With some of the greatest clubs in the country belonging to Moscow, naturally, the city has also developed some of the country’s finest players. The two biggest are arguably before mentioned Streltsov as well as Lev Yashin of Dinamo Moscow, who is widely considered the greatest goalkeeper to ever grace football. Streltsov already has a stadium named after him, and Yashin will soon have the same honour bestowed on him, once Dinamo’s new stadium is ready.

 

What to do in Moscow

Being the largest city in Russia, obviously, there’s a lot of stuff to do as a visitor. However, for anybody football interested, there are a number of spots which have to be visited. Russians don’t forget their legends, so across the city, it is possible to find shrines in honour of the greatest icons and achievements in Russian sport.

Lev Yashin Graffiti

Lev Yashin graffiti piece in Moscow. Photo: RFN/Danny Armstrong

Any football fan visiting Moscow should somewhat pay tribute to legendary Lev Yashin. Yashin remains the only goalkeeper to ever win the Balon d’Or, and there are a couple of shrines dedicated in his honour in the capital. The biggest, and most impressive, is the Lev Yashin graffiti piece at Narodnaya Street close to Taganskaya Metro Station. The piece is found close to the headquarter of the Russian Football Union.

There are furthermore two impressive statues in Yashin’s honour. One is found in the Olympic Park near the Luzhniki Stadium, and the other one, arguably more impressive, is placed by Dinamo’s old homeground, Dinamo Stadium.

Near Luzhniki, one can also find statues of Spartak legend and founder Nikolai Starostin as well of Eduard Streltsov.

However, the more impressive Streltsov memorial is certainly the one outside of Eduard Streltsov Stadium. Here, one can also find an amazing amount of graffiti pieces memorating Torpedo Moscow’s history and legends. For anyone just remotely interested in football history, this is certainly worth a visit.

For anyone interested in CSKA, a visit to the club’s Alley of Glory close to their main building at Leningradsky Prospekt is also recommended.

Eduard Streltsov graffiti outside of Eduard Streltsov Stadium. Photo: RFN/Toke Theilade

If you have any questions about Moscow or the World Cup, feel free to contact us on Twitter (@Rusfootballnews), on Facebook or simply leave a comment beneath this article, and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.

Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

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