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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Off-Field Tension High for England Match

Itar-TassA lucky fan waving two tickets Tuesday to the sold-out match with England.
There are more nerves off the football pitch than on it as Russia and England prepare to clash Wednesday evening in a crucial Euro 2008 qualifier at Luzhniki stadium.

Police and Interior Ministry troops will be out in droves to ensure order, Russian fans have reportedly called in a voodoo expert to fix the game and an international poisoning suspect is pondering whether to show up to cheer the home side.

More than 5,000 police will be on duty at the stadium, including 2,370 Interior Ministry troops, 55 mounted police, 85 canine units and 230 OMON riot police, city police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev said Tuesday.

Another 1,000 police will patrol the city center, Gildeyev said, meaning that there will be more than one police officer for every English fan traveling to Moscow for the game.

In preparation for the English fans -- 4,500 in total -- riot police even received a special lesson in how to deal with English fans and their "aggressive" ways, Sovietsky Sport reported Tuesday.

English fans should hope this does not involve the same tactics OMON officers have previously used in dealing with troublesome Russian fans: Former Russia captain Yegor Titov once described riot police as "animals."

Russian police know the reputation of English fans as hooligans, just as English fans have heard of the reputation of Russian police.

"People realize that this is a country you want to avoid being arrested in," said Mark Perryman, an English fan involved in Fan-Friendly, a movement focused on rehabilitating English fans' reputation following hooligan scandals at the 2000 European Championship. "We know that the Russian police have a very low level of tolerance. They don't take that much winding up."

As part of the Fan-Friendly campaign, English fans will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Wednesday morning together with British Ambassador Tony Brenton. They were set to play a return match against Russian fans at Luzhniki stadium late Tuesday evening.

Vasily Petrakov, a leader of the All-Russia Fans Association, said supporters of the visiting side were unlikely to encounter trouble with opposing fans or police. Fans from English clubs have come to Moscow in recent years without any major incidents.

Violence inside Russian stadiums is now increasingly rare: Clashes between rival fans are more likely to happen outside the venue.

"There is a chance that something will happen in a bar or in the center," Petrakov said.

Petrakov mentioned a purported clash in St. Petersburg on Monday between rival fans, and there have been rumors that Russian and English hooligans are arranging fights.

Russian fans have long looked up to the exploits of English hooligans and are fond of using English names for their hooligan groups.

The British Embassy issued a long list of warnings to British citizens planning to attend the game.

"Be as inconspicuous as possible," the warning posted on the embassy web site said. Fans were advised to avoid donning England scarves and hats.

Painting one's face red and white -- the colors of the St. George's flag -- would also constitute being conspicuous, an embassy spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Russian fans resorted to bizarre measures for success, hiring a voodoo priestess to curse three English players, the Tvoi Den newspaper reported Tuesday. Instead of using a voodoo doll, however, the fans used matryoshka dolls embossed with the pictures of Joe Cole, John Terry and Frank Lampard, the newspaper said.

"They will have a problem with speech," the Haitian priestess said after cursing the players, Tvoi Den reported. "Apart from that the lads could unexpectedly have problems with their legs -- apologies for the details -- between their legs. Nothing serious. Simply some small discomfort, lethargy, ache and if all goes according to my plan, an itch."

The choice of Lampard was odd, as he is not expected to start the match and has been booed by his own fans in recent weeks as if he were already cursed.

One Russian fan whose attendance at the game is not yet confirmed is a key figure in troubled Russian-English relations, which -- if not quite at the level they were during the Crimean War -- have certainly been bitter recently

"I have a ticket, but I haven't decided yet," Andrei Lugovoi said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Lugovoi, who is running as the No. 2 candidate on the Liberal Democratic Party's federal ticket in the Dec. 2 State Duma elections, is Britain's chief suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning in London in November. Russia has steadfastly refused to extradite Lugovoi despite British demands.

The last time Lugovoi drew media attention for attending a football match was when traces of radiation were discovered at the Arsenal stadium in London. Lugovoi watched Arsenal play live at the stadium shortly before Litvinenko's death.

Despite police, a suspected murderer and the need to ditch the scarves, scalpers on Tuesday were asking up to 4,000 rubles ($160) for a 400 ruble ticket for the game, which is sold out.