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Chechen team wins Russian cup

May 30, 2004 15:40 IST

A Chechen football team that never plays at home because it is too dangerous won Russia's cup final on Saturday, giving the war-torn region something to cheer about -- and a place in Europe's UEFA Cup.

"I dedicate this win to all the Chechen people," said match winner Andrei Fedkov, who chipped the ball over the goalkeeper in the final moments to give the underdogs the only goal.

His team, Terek Grozny, play their home matches hundreds of miles (km) from the Chechen capital because it is too dangerous in their own city. They defied all expectations by beating Krylya Sovietov, a team from Samara, in the final.

Within half a minute, the tense calm in Grozny's empty streets was shattered by the sound of Terek supporters shooting into the air, while fans in Moscow made do with kazoos and a rare chance to wave Chechnya's green, white and red flag.

The unique moment of happiness for Chechnya, plagued by war for more than a decade, came three weeks after fragile hopes for stability in the region were snuffed out by the assassination of Akhmad Kadyrov, president of both Chechnya and Terek Grozny.

The Terek players unfurled a huge poster of Kadyrov before making a lap of honour and hoisting Kadyrov's son Ramzan -- the club's vice president -- into the air in celebration.

It remains to be seen whether the euphoria of the unexpected victory will catapult Ramzan -- a tracksuit-wearing 27-year-old who controls thousands of militia fighters in the region -- into power in place of his father.

POLITICAL FOOTBALL

But Chechen separatists will not be mollified by what they see as Moscow trying to buy their loyalty with a nominally Chechen soccer team. In a statement published on rebel Web site kavkazcenter.com last September, Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev -- Russia's most wanted man -- vowed the war would go on.

"The Russians can use all the voting and money they like to try to buy citizens who have been scared and oppressed by this war, they can put Terek into the top division... and try to dupe our people with public relations, but by Allah our jihad will not slacken and we will fight until victory," he said.

But Terek fans in Chechnya and neighbouring Ingushetia said they were just keen to forget about violence and squeezed into the few places with satellite television to watch the match.

"Glory to Allah! We won!," shouted an old man in military clothing, one of around 250 supporters crushed into a cafe built for 40 in Nazran, Ingushetia's largest city.

"I never had a happier moment in the last four years," he said above yells of delight in the cafe, whose owners brought in a generator to stop the usual power cuts from ruining the day.

Terek's general director Lom-Ali Ibragimov said the match was a chance to show Chechens in a positive light.

"Our task is to show that in Chechnya there are not just bandits and terrorists, but also normal people," Ibragimov told Reuters before the game. "At last everyone will know Chechens are peaceful people who know how to play football."

Local media said up to 8,000 Chechens made the journey to Moscow for the match and around 1,600 police and soldiers were drafted in for the day. There were no reports of violence.

But violence continued in Grozny, where Russia's Interfax news agency said two people died in a gunfight on Saturday.

(Additional reporting by Will Webster and Oliver Bullough)

Tom Miles in Moscow
Source:
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