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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grozny Soccer Team Has Title Shot

Four years ago the team didn't exist, and even now they can't play at their own stadium. But on Saturday, Terek Grozny will be 90 minutes away from the big time of European soccer competition.

Three weeks after the president of the club -- and Chechnya -- Akhmad Kadyrov was killed in a bomb explosion at Grozny's Dynamo stadium, where Terek played in more peaceful days, Kadyrov's club will play in the Russian Cup Final against Kryliya Sovietov Samara.

The prize at stake is a place in the UEFA Cup, a Europe-wide club competition.

"This is a great success for Chechnya. It's the first time Terek has reached the final," said Lom Ali Ibragimov, the general director of the club and president of the Chechen soccer federation, by telephone this week.

"Especially with the difficult political situation."

A minute's silence will be held before the start of the match, Ibragimov said, with Terek wearing black tops in honor of Kadyrov.

"The final is in memory of Akhmad Kadyrov, who was tragically killed," Ibragimov said. "He created the team."

Security will be tight at the match for the visit by Kadyrov's son Ramzan, who is set to become the next president of the club, he said.

But staff at Lokomotiv stadium said they knew nothing about extra security measures.

No one has been able to give exact figures on how many Chechens will be at the match. Ibragimov said that 5,000 fans alone are coming from the Caucasus region, as well as possibly thousands more from the estimated 100,000-plus Chechen diaspora in Moscow. Kryliya, the favorite to win the match, will bring more than 10,000 supporters from Samara.

Some fears about harassment from police, skinheads or football hooligans may deter Chechen fans from attending, said Edi Isayev, an advisor to the Chechen government's representative in Moscow.

It's been a swift rise for a team that, for most of its history, never got close to premier league football -- let alone cup glory.

Founded in 1958, Terek Grozny was named after the river that runs through the city. As a simple provincial team, in what was then a simple provincial city, the club did neither very well nor very badly, and drifted between the second division and the first.

As chaos descended on the republic in the 1990s, it became one of the most intimidating away games in the world. Many teams simply refused to go out of fear for their own safety, while others told of intimidation and fans armed with Kalashnikovs in the stadium.

In 1994, Terek was forced to disband with the start of the first Chechen war.

The team was resurrected in 2000 at the government's initiative, in an attempt to normalize the situation in the republic. The team is completely funded by the Chechen government and has a $3 million budget this year.

A total of 82 soccer teams play in the republic and a number of soccer schools have been set up, but Terek's hopes of playing in their old stadium in Grozny are still far from being realized.

For now, the team plays in Pyatigorsk, hundreds of kilometers away, and few Chechens from the republic make the long, dangerous trip for the games.

"It's a terrible journey from Chechnya, blok posty. Not every person can allow themselves to go," said Sergei Kapustin, a journalist with Sport Express who covers teams in the area.

As well as being club president, Akhmad Kadyrov -- who played soccer in his younger days -- took an active interest in the team's affairs. Last season he reportedly phoned regional leaders when his team was fighting for promotion, to ask them to ensure the referee controlled the match fairly. Russian soccer has a reputation, especially in the lower leagues, for fixed games.

"If the referee is OK, then everything will be OK," Kapustin said.

Regional leaders may soon be getting phone calls from Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been accused by human rights groups of personally torturing prisoners captured by his kadyrovtsy security force.

Although the Chechen government backs Terek, officials say the team has never received any threats from rebels fighting against the government.

"Nobody is against the team, even the rebels," Ibragimov said. "Probably. I don't know any of them," he added with a laugh.

Rebel leader Shamil Basayev, also a big soccer fan, played for Terek Grozny when Chechnya was independent. He later lost a leg to a war wound.

Most fans seem to support the club's cup campaign, although one fan wrote on the Terek web site, "How can you play in the final of a country you're not a member of?"

A number of the Chechen players, now a minority in the team, lost relatives because of Russian shelling or shooting during the Chechen wars.

There also remains a residual fear and antagonism toward Chechens in southern Russia, a region that has suffered much from terrorism and where many of the soldiers who serve in Chechnya come from.

"Some people say, 'Why does Grozny come here?'" Kapustin said. "The word Grozny on its own scares people."

But most "understand that rebels don't play in the side," he said.

The team's success is partly due to finance, Kapustin said. Terek has one of the Russian league's better budgets, and players get paid on time, unlike at a number of other clubs.

More importantly, Ibragimov said, club coach xxxx Tagliyev has picked his players well.

Tagliyev, an ethnic Chechen whose family was deported to Kazakhstan in 1944, played for Kazakh team Pamyr in the Soviet league and won a number of Kazakh championships as coach.

Since coming back to coach Terek, he has created a team of experienced players, with a majority of non-Chechens. The team is already on a par with premier league sides.

If Terek wins the final, the team will take the cup back to Chechnya to show the fans.

"Where else would we take it?" Ibragimov said. "Samara?"

Live coverage of the match from Lokomotiv stadium begins at 4:00 p.m. Saturday, on the NTV-Football satellite channel.