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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Railroad Team Right On Tracks

When low-key Lokomotiv Moscow faces powerful Benfica in the second round of the European Cup Winners' Cup on Thursday night in Lisbon, it will have a mighty task in hand.


Lokomotiv, the most unfashionable of all five Moscow's soccer clubs, has been going against the odds since it was founded in 1936 by the railroad union with neither the fame nor the clout of the more familiar Spartak, Dinamo or CSKA.


The club surprised many older teams in its first year by winning the inaugural Soviet Cup. Sixty years later Lokomotiv repeated its initial success when it beat Spartak 3-2 in the Russian Cup final in May.


This earned the team the right to represent Russia in the Cup Winners Cup, where it eliminated Varteks of Croatia in the first round.


"It's all comes from tradition," said Yuri Semin, the team's long-time head coach. "Obviously, clubs like Spartak and Dinamo have a longer history and tradition in soccer than we do. But that's fine with me."


Neither does Lokomotiv have the following of other Moscow teams.


"We have some 4,000 to 5,000 hardcore fans that support us from game to game," Semin said.


Although, in a time when other government-subsidized clubs like the ZIL car factory's Torpedo or the army's CSKA face financial dilemmas, Lokomotiv, which represents more than 20,000 railroad workers in the Moscow region, enjoys a rare money surplus.


"We are a well-balanced club from a financial standpoint," the coach said. "Fifty percent of the money comes from the railroad administration with the rest from private sponsors and team revenue."


Semin is well-known for preaching a "team concept" -- relying mostly on younger talented players rather than on individual superstars.


This season the coach invited unknown forwards Zaza Dzhanashia from the obscure Zugdidi in Georgia and Oleg Garas from the Ukrainian second division team Lvov. Both became regulars, with Garas getting a hat-trick in his premier league debut against Sochi.


A few years back in the same fashion Semin introduced a pair of young midfielders Yevgeny Kharlachev and Andrei Solomatin to the Moscow public and last fall Lokomotiv surprised many experts with its best finish ever, second behind Alania Vladikavkaz, in the Russian premier league.