Two games left
Valeri Gazzaev's men could even claim the crown with a defeat, provided nearest challengers FC Spartak Moskva and FC Lokomotiv Moskva fail to beat FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast and FC Terek Chechenskaya Respublika respectively. With two rounds of matches remaining, the duo trail CSKA by four points, but Lokomotiv are due to play Spartak on the last day.
However, CSKA know they have to tread carefully despite their strong position. A year ago, they were seemingly in a secure position with three games to go, holding a three-point advantage on their rivals. However, the Army Men first stumbled to a 1-1 draw against FC Krylya Sovetov Samara before a 0-0 stalemate against Dinamo, again in CSKA's penultimate match, allowed Lokomotiv to pip them to first place by a point.
"Last year we've had our drama," said Brazilian playmaker Daniel Carvalho. "That experience, when people were congratulating us on a title we hadn't won, is not forgotten. Anything can happen." Carvalho pointed to last Sunday's 2-1 victory against FC Rostov when they nearly allowed their visitors to steal a point. "If we play again like we did against Rostov, then we could let the title slip. We showed a total loss of concentration in the second half."
On the up
CSKA should make no mistake this time around. They have been on the up since summer 2001 when a fresh management team took over, led by president Evgeni Giner. In the first full season under the new leadership, CSKA lost the title in a play-off against Lokomotiv. Then, in 2003, Gazzaev guided the side to their first championship before that narrow miss last term, which was alleviated by success in the Russian Cup and UEFA Cup.
The 2005 campaign has been a story of endless pursuit for CSKA. It was the 26th round of the 30-game season before they drew level with Lokomotiv. By the next match, they had a two-point lead, increasing that to four in their next game. To keep their focus in the run-up to the Dinamo date, Gazzaev has banned his players from reading or watching anything to do with football.
He said: "Those who proclaim us champions are the enemies of the team. Last year we gave away the title to Lokomotiv, now we're in a similar situation but the other way around. I remind the players every day that they should avoid the mistakes of the past." Despite such calls for composure from Carvalho and Gazzaev, few outsiders expecting CSKA to stumble.
Consequently, Spartak and Lokomotiv are focusing more on the race for the runners-up spot and second UEFA Champions League berth. Spartak are ahead by virtue of more wins in their 28 games but the clubs will meet in a dramatic final-day decider. Four points behind them, FC Rubin Kazan could still profit if both drop points this weekend and then draw their encounter.
At the other end, Premier-Liga debutants Terek are already relegated while FC Alania Vladikavkaz, the only side able to stop Spartak's domination in the 1990s with their 1995 title triumph, look set to join them. Russia's most easterly team, FC Luch-Energia Vladivostok, 12 years away from the élite, have been promoted along with FC Spartak Nalchik.
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