Hapoel Tel Aviv's next opponent in the UEFA Cup, Lokomotiv Moscow, will play its final game in the Russian league today, with a place in next season's Champions League hanging in the balance.
Victory over newly-crowned champion Spartak Moscow will ensure that Lokomotiv ends the season in second place and earns a place in the third qualifying round of the Champions League.
Lokomotiv currently has the same number of points as St. Petersburg, but has a better goal difference. The Lokomotiv players spent the last two days at a closed training camp ahead of their crucial game against Spartak. Lokomotiv bosses have been calling today's match, which will be watched by Hapoel chief Dror Kashtan, "critical for the team."
Lokomotiv will have its entire roster of players available for the clash, after captain Igor Chugainov recovered from injury. Spartak, on the other hand, will be without several key players, including goalkeeper Lavitzki and midfielder Parpionov, who have joined their Ukrainian countrymen ahead of that country's World Cup play-off double-header against Germany on Saturday and Wednesday.
Moscow calls for weather forecast
Lokomotiv will ask the Russian meteorology service for a weather forecast for the start of December, in order to decide where the return leg of the third round UEFA Cup match against Tel Aviv will be held. If temperatures are not too low, the game will be held in the nearby city of Ramenskoya, where the undersoil heating system allows games to be played in temperatures as low as minus 17 degrees Celsius. If UEFA does not allow Lokomotiv to play near to its Moscow home, the game will be played in Vladikavkaz, a two-hour flight from Moscow and just 100 kilometers from the Chechnya border. Because of the logistical difficulties in playing so far from its home stadium, Lokomotiv will do all it can to ensure that the game be played close to Moscow - even though this would mean playing in front of fewer fans, since the Alnya Stadium in Vladikavkaz holds just under 40,000 while the stadium in Ramenskoya can hold only 16,500.
Lokomotiv announced yesterday that it would hold a six-day training camp in Cyprus ahead of the game in Tel Aviv on November 20. The team will stay in the same hotel in Ayia Napa that it stayed in before their European Cup Winners Cup match against Maccabi Haifa 30 months ago. Coach Yuri Semin has yet to decide if he will hold a practice match on either November 15 or 16. Lokomotiv will arrive in Tel Aviv on November 19, just one day ahead of the game against Hapoel. Although the team will be accompanied by journalists, sponsors and club directors, no supporters are expected to make the journey from Moscow for the game.
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