Lugovoi Gets a Ticket in a Buyer's Market

APEnglish fans surrounding Chelsea's Shaun Wright-Phillips as he pays a visit to Red Square on Tuesday afternoon.
He'll be entering a lion's den, but Andrei Lugovoi, the man wanted in Britain for the London murder of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, is set to brave a stadium full of English fans Wednesday evening to watch Manchester United take on Chelsea.

Abramovich's spokesman has also confirmed that the billionaire Chelsea owner will attend, but it seems that Russia's two most prominent politicians won't be making it to Luzhniki stadium for the all-English final.

New President Dmitry Medvedev and even newer Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will both skip the match, a government spokesman said.

Relations between Britain and Russia have been seriously damaged by the diplomatic spat following Litvinenko's death and Russia's subsequent refusal to hand over Lugovoi.

Lugovoi's planned attendance, confirmed by his spokeswoman Tuesday, doesn't come as a complete surprise, given his well-publicized passion for "the beautiful game."

During his infamous trip to London in late 2006, he visited Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, allegedly leaving a trail of deadly polonium-210 behind. Lugovoi, now a State Duma deputy, also threatened to attend Luzhniki when Russia played England there last year, but was ultimately a no-show.

No-shows may be a problem Wednesday at the 69,500-seat stadium.

With just a day left before the match, both Manchester United and Chelsea had hundreds of tickets still either unsold or uncollected, and the bottom seemed to be dropping out on the Moscow black market for tickets, as prices, once as high as 3000 euros ($4,700), collapsed.

As British fans streamed, rather than flooded, into central Moscow on Tuesday, they said supporters had been put off by astronomical travel and hotel prices and the difficulties of making the cross-continent trip to Russia.

Despite worries about possible unrest and the potential for violence after Glasgow Rangers fans clashed with British police at last week's UEFA Cup final in Manchester, England, police presence was minimal and the atmosphere in the capital seemed welcoming.

"If the match had been held in Rome or Barcelona, then United could have sold out the whole stadium by themselves, but now there will probably be sporadic empty seats," said Manchester United fan Peter Graham, after haggling for a fur hat near Red Square.

"Both clubs were oversubscribed for the ballots, but when the prices were announced for the club package deals, people had second thoughts," Graham said.

Mikhail Metzel / AP
A Chelsea fan giving a thumbs-up on his arrival Tuesday at Vnukovo Airport.

He said he had traveled via Poland to cut down on costs.

Fans said deals through the clubs for a ticket and flight had cost ?900 (about $1,800), rising to ?1,200 when accommodation was included.

"For that sort of money you could take a two-week cruise," said Chelsea fan Andy Burgess, who had arrived from North London Monday.

"I don't think they sold tickets as easily as they thought they would. I think there will be a lot of them being sold at the last minute," Burgess said, adding that some of his friends had come with spare tickets and hoped to sell them in Moscow.

Despite fears that the stands at Europe's most prestigious club match might be pockmarked with clusters of empty seats, UEFA President Michel Platini said Tuesday that everything was going to plan.

Both teams had actually asked for their initial ticket allocation to be increased, and UEFA had heard nothing about any further problems, an impassioned Platini said at a news conference in Moscow.

"I have no regrets about the choice of holding the final in Moscow," Platini said, adding that the decision on the location had been made three years ago. Platini also expressed his personal thanks to Putin for his help with the event.

According to UEFA's latest information, Chelsea had sold all of its 21,000 tickets, but 700 remained uncollected, and Manchester United still had 150 unsold seats and 900 uncollected, Giorgio Marchetti, UEFA's director of competitions, said Tuesday.

"In principle, we expect to see a full stadium," Marchetti said.

After a frantic scramble sent ticket prices sky-high for Russian football lovers and expat fans, the Moscow market seemed to be cooling down as the match approached.

"We started with around 200 tickets and now have 20 left. Tomorrow we might hit the minimum price," said Andrei, a manager at local firm, refusing to give his surname. The highest priced tickets had slumped from 3,000 euros in March to 500 euros now, he said.

"The problem is that the English fans that flew in bought package services that included the tickets and flights," Andrei said.

"Of the 40,000 who are here, 99 percent already have a ticket," he said. "You can go to any five-star hotel — the Marriott, the Ararat — and no one needs tickets."

n Moscow city officials plan to block traffic in the area around Luzhniki stadium on Wednesday to accommodate fans for the game, RIA-Novosti reported.

Khamovnichevksy Val, Luzhnetsky Proyezd, Novoluzhnetsky Proyezd, Novodevichy Proyezd, Luzhnetskaya Naberezhnaya, Savvinskaya Naberezhnaya, Novodevichya Naberezhnaya and part of Frunzenskaya Naberezhnaya will be closed from 7 a.m. to the end of the match.