The Russian team touched down in Faro one week before their opening match against Spain last Saturday shrouded in secrecy. Surrounded by tight security, the players boarded the team bus waiting at the foot of the gangway which then proceeded to whisk them away to their enclosed compound where contact with the outside world was discouraged by 20 GNR officers, 10 plain-clothes PSP men and further private security agents.
Browns Sports and Leisure Club in Vilamoura will be home from home for the Russians during Euro 2004. Specialising in hosting athletes from all disciplines, Browns not only guarantees privacy and a tranquil environment, but also boasts an excellent sporting infrastructure. In addition to all the usual facilities, the Russian squad will be able to use a first-class practice pitch, a modern gymnasium, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, various Jacuzzis, saunas and Turkish baths and three tennis courts. An additional plus factor is the proximity of the Algarve Stadium, where the team will play two of their three group matches.
Just as the festivities seemed to be bypassing the region, the Algarve was invaded by Russian fans throughout last Friday. More than 40 flights ferried in over 8,000 supporters, who proceeded to make their presence felt in hotels and bars up and down the coast before meeting up at the match on Saturday evening. Yun and Anastasya Vasir travelled 14,000 kms. from Windhook in Namibia, to be at the game. Also present were Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and various high-ranking Russian politicians.
Nine players’ wives decided to provide the team with a tonic by posing nude for the Russian magazine Komsomolskaya Pravda. “We have done our bit,” said one. “Now it is the turn of the men.” The normally taciturn coach Georgi Yartsev said that he had been too busy to view the end product, but would be very interested to do so!
Russia’s PR Chief, Alexander Chernov, accepted a wager with the Spanish press corps ahead of the showdown, promising a case of vodka in the event of his team losing. The Spanish, for their part, agreed to deliver a top quality smoked ham to the Russian hotel if defeated. The well chilled vodka was apparently well appreciated.