President Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya organised an improbable football match as a curtain raiser for the 2011 Russian Premier League campaign of Terek Grozny. He captained an invitation XI against the Bebeto/Romario/Dunga side that lifted the World Cup in 2002. Kadyrov succeeded his assassinated father as President of Chechnya some time before his 30th birthday; the youngest age permitted for the position under Federal law. He held the position de facto until he turned 30, and has remained in charge since. Kremlin approved, he is a favourite of Putin and an important ally in the unsettled region. There are often whispers about his methods, and Chechnya is returning slowly to its traditional Muslim values, a source of nervousness where just recently 3 tourists were killed in a fundamental attack on a nearby Caucus ski resort. Calls for an independent Caliphate in Dagestan to the north are backed up by Black Widow bombings and the recent atrocity at Moscow’s Domodedevo airport.
The rise of the capital’s football team, Terek Grozny, in the years since the conflict abated has been meteoric; now established in the top flight, Kadyrov has just installed Ruud Gullit as manager. Presumably he will have a larger squad to chose from for the first game of the season this weekend.
After an interminable few minutes of various anthems, the gold and green of Brazil kick off against the all red of Terek (although the president, playing up front with 10 on his back, has accessorised with the blue captain’s armband and black tracksuit bottoms tucked into his socks.) Brazil take the lead by walking the ball down the right wing, before the cross was met with a scoring header, unchallenged by Kadyrov who has inexplicably found himself at right back. Well, he raised his right leg someway short of a right angle, but ? (I think) took the header a good foot in the air. Denilson (I think) scored the next, inside 7 minutes, by strolling through the defence, and one has to wonder whether or not these guys are aware of the warrior nature of the locals; win by all means boys, but if you want to catch that flight home with your legs unencumbered by plaster I would recommend not humiliating the motley crew of Chechnya’s ‘great and good’.
Richard Keys and Andy Gray may have assumed the assistant was a woman, considering the distance offside the Terek player was for the penalty awarded a few minutes later. But today is International Women’s Day, and presumably the legions of women officials have the day off. Kadyrov steps up, and it’s clear that he is going to score tonight, by decree or otherwise. The squat former warlord hoofs a left foot shot at a good height and pace for the keeper to deal with it comfortably. I’m beginning to think the Brazilians were given the script written in Russian, as they are not humouring their hosts. However, after the pen, they start behaving, backing off attackers and conceding corners. The inevitable Terek goal comes in the 13th minute, and through the tears of mirth I see that the President’s shot was parried into the path of a grateful number 9 (aside from the number 10, I can’t name a single Terek player). A poacher’s goal, the type that Kuyt so happily put away at the weekend at Anfield.
The trouble that the Terek XI have is that the Old Boys From Brazil are just class; it really is permanent. They don’t move too fast, but their one touch passes are showing the opposition up for what they are – a sub-Hackney Marshes Sunday side, inelegant, clumsy and slow, save for three or four former players who prevent the whitewash. That said, Kadyrov WILL score, the tubby bugger has paid for the privilege……well, someone has. He miraculously finds acres of space without moving and favours passing (occasionally pretty well) with that widely worshipped left boot of his. His odd misdeed is in indulged by the referee, a handball here, late challenge there. All in all, the game is good natured, smiles all around, especially from the young leader who has a grin a mile wide. He wins a second penalty in the 18th minute, tumbling from a standstill. I thought Weebles merely wobbled. This time he doesn’t even trouble the ‘keeper, and his hooked shot flies high and right.
The TV station carrying the game, Rossia2, seems unclear how long a half lasts. According to their on screen clock, we’re one and a half minutes into injury time of a 20 minute half when Kadyrov scores the equaliser, several metres offside. Still grinning, but a slightly muted celebration suggests he could see what everyone aside from the assistant could. The injury time clock disappears, and the half looks to have been 25 minutes when the ref sends them in. During the interval, the camera scans a laughing crowd and a section of VIPs. Ruud is nowhere to be seen, and I can only speculate that he is enjoying a night out in “cosmopolitan” Grozny.
The second half, and Brazil still look, if you’ll excuse me, the nuts. Even Dunga, who now runs like a grandad who has just missed the bus. When Kadyrov receives the ball in the area, he freezes and stumbles. Brazil forget themselves in the 29th minute, moving the ball seamlessly along the centre length of the pitch to restore their lead. Again, they realise their mistake and defer to their hosts and after only half an hour or so, the pace of the game is that of one in its umpteenth minute of extra time. The referee’s assistant on the far side is the only person on the field who seems to have improved – new glasses at half time perhaps – because he is spotting some close “offsides” and Brazil can’t beat the trap. Surprising return to form for the lad, after he had such a dreadful first half, but I’m pleased for him.
Romario puts Brazil two up, just after some ancient Soviet hero of football has come on for Terek; whilst Dunga does an impression of a bow-legged Papa, this guy is the real deal, albeit with a deft touch. I’ve had enough by 36 minutes, but continue to watch – Brazil eventually have 5 (I think), whilst Kadyrov scores a penalty after telling the ‘keeper what to do.
From what is alleged, this may be the least corrupt match in the recent history of Terek Grozny.