With the UEFA Champions League on its winter break, uefa.com will publish mid-term reports on the 16 remaining sides in the competition every day until 31 December. Today we look at newly-crowned Russian champions and UEFA Champions League surprise package FC Lokomotiv Moskva. The Moscow side can look forward to the remainder of this season’s European campaign with optimism, having already performed beyond expectations.
The story so far
After finishing third in a group in their inaugural Champions League season in 2001/02, Lokomotiv have built on the experience they gained in that campaign and recovered from a slow start to beat the odds and unexpectedly reach the second group stage. Lokomotiv's campaign began badly as they were beaten 2-0 at home by Galatasaray SK, and a goalless draw with Club Brugge KV and defeats to FC Barcelona home and away left the Moscow team bottom of the group. However, Yuri Semin's men produced one of the most unexpected comebacks in this year’s competition, first defeating Turkish champions Galatasaray 2-1 in Istanbul before a 2-1 home win over Brugge in difficult conditions to ensure they would finish runners-up behind Barcelona and reach the second stage. Drawn alongside Real Madrid CF, AC Milan and BV Borussia Dortmund, Lokomotiv once again began with a home defeat, losing 2-1 against Dortmund, but recovered once more to achieve an unexpected 2-2 draw in Madrid.
Lokomotiv are an incredibly disciplined side whose success is based on strong defending, which relies heavily on the Russian international centre-back pairing of Gennadi Nizhegorodov and Sergei Ignashevitch, who are ably supported by Oleg Pashinin, re-signed from Japan. The defence protects goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnikov, who has performed miracles in the competition, making a number of important saves, and his presence visibly instils confidence in his defenders. Dmitri Loskov is the key member of the Lokomotiv attack, as his influence is at the heart of most of the side’s best moves.
Lokomotiv’s brilliant recovery was all the more remarkable as they lost one of they key players, Russian international midfield player Marat Izmailov, who broke a bone in his foot in training and will be out of action until the New Year. However, Lokomotiv’s main weakness has nothing to do with personnel, but rather the same problems that have traditionally undermined Russian sides in Europe. Historically, Russian sides have found it difficult to restart their European campaigns after the mid-winter break, and the fact that the Russian Premier-Liga does not kick off until early spring will leave Lokomotiv worryingly short of match practice for their remaining Group C games.
Key man - Sergei Ovchinnikov
Goalkeeper Ovchinnikov, whose loan spell from FC Porto is likely to be extended at least until the end of the Champions League campaign, is the key man in a strong Lokomotiv defence. One of the side’s most consistent performers, he will need to keep playing well if his side are not to find themselves out of their depth. Against attacks of the calibre of Dortmund, Milan and Madrid, he is sure to have plenty to do, but has kept his side in games with crucial saves in the past and will probably have to do so again.
Best moment so far
The 2-2 draw against Madrid in the Santiago Bernabéu was one the most surprising results in Europe this season and proved they are capable of coping with the continent’s best. Despite having qualified from the first stage against the odds, it was not until they frustrated Madrid that their defensive strengths became obvious to a wider audience, and showed they can get results in the toughest of circumstances.
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