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To say that FC Rubin Kazan will enjoy home advantage in their UEFA Europa League first-leg meeting with Olympiacos FC is something of a moot point.
True, the Rubin players should be better equipped than their Greek visitors to cope with the bitterly cold temperatures – the forecast for Tuesday afternoon is -15C, cloudy and snowy – but it should be noted that they will be playing some 800km from their home city of Kazan at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
This is a drive of more than ten hours for their most dedicated supporters – hardly ideal, as captain Roman Sharonov admits, but still the preferred option given the frozen state of their own pitch. "Of course, this is not the best option for our fans but it would be difficult in such circumstances to play at our own stadium. Even Lokomotiv have moved their UEFA Cup match [against Athletic Club Bilbao on Thursday] from their stadium to the Luzhniki.
"For the supporters to watch matches in such weather it is like watching bandy," he added, referring to a sport popular in Russia and Scandinavia that looks to the untrained eye like field hockey on ice. "The difference is that [with bandy], you have a culture of hot drinks, very warm clothes and felt boots."
Never mind the warmth of the spectators, the fear for Rubin is that they might be caught cold by Olympiacos, just as they were when losing 2-0 to FC Twente at the Luzhniki at the same stage of last season's competition. While the Russian Premier League remains in its winter recess, Olympiacos, who enter the UEFA Europa League after UEFA Champions League elimination, travelled to Russia on the back of four straight victories in their domestic championship. This run includes a 2-0 derby win over AEK Athens FC last weekend, and before that an identical success against the same PAOK FC side who held Rubin to home and away draws in the group stage.
Rubin, by contrast, have prepared with two training camps in southern Europe, the first in Turkey and the second in Spain where Kurban Berdyev's men took part in, and won, the Marbella Cup. This comprised three matches, including a final against FC Dynamo Kyiv which brought a 2-1 victory. "It would be good to have played one more match," said Sharonov, the veteran central defender.
"It is difficult to evaluate our level but of course we are not ready 100 per cent. In Spain we participated in one full-length match; before that we were playing between 30 and 60 minutes per game."
After a final training session in Spain on Sunday, the Rubin squad took a charter flight to Moscow, allowing them just 48 hours to adjust back to the cold. "It is stressful to change from warm to cold especially with changing time zones," admitted Sharonov, who can only hope the shock to the system proves even greater for Olympiacos.
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