Going behind the Curtain

While Chelsea’s Europa League match at BATE Borisov this week will be our first competitive game in Belarus, the Blues have made regular visits to countries of the former Soviet Union over the past 19 years.

Chelsea famously hosted Dinamo Moscow in a friendly game at Stamford Bridge in November 1945, an 3-3 draw which drew a reported crowd of well over 100,000.

However, it was not until after the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991 that the Blues ventured into the former Iron Curtain nations to play competitive matches.

The first visit in August 1999 saw us travel to Latvia to meet Skonto Riga in the final qualifying round for the Champions League, with a 3-0 lead from the first leg.

Coach Gianluca Vialli rested several players and while the Blues missed opportunities to add to the margin, we were never in any real danger in a 0-0 draw, which was most notable for Carlo Cudicini’s first-ever appearance for the club when he came on as a substitute for Ed de Goey.

We have played four games in Moscow, with our first against CSKA Moscow at Lokomotiv Stadium in November 2004.

In chilly conditions, Chelsea prevailed 1-0 with Arjen Robben netting his first goal for the club after 24 minutes, gathering a backheel from Damien Duff and swivelling past a defender before passing the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

We didn’t face Russian opposition on our next trip to Moscow, as we met Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Sadly, it was a case of what might have been as the Blues battled from a goal down and saw efforts by Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard hit the frame of the goal before we were eventually beaten in a penalty shoot-out.

The Blues were back at the Luzhniki Stadium in October 2010 for a Champions League group stage game against Spartak Moscow, a match most notable for a stunning half-volley by Yuri Zhirkov midway through the first half as the Russian full-back scored his only Chelsea goal in our 2-0 win.

We returned for a third visit to the Luzhniki in April 2013, after our Europa League round of 16 match against Rubin Kazan was moved to Moscow because of the poor condition of the pitch in Rubin’s home stadium.

Although Chelsea twice took the lead with Fernando Torres chipping home from 30 metres and Victor Moses netting early in the second half, the Russian side won the game 3-2. However, it was not enough to overcome our two-goal advantage from the first leg as we advanced 5-4 on aggregate.

Earlier that season, we had travelled to Ukraine for the first time to face a Shakhtar Donetsk side which included Willian in their line-up.

Goals by Alex Texeira and Fernandinho gave the hosts a two-goal lead before Oscar pulled back one for the Blues in a 2-1 defeat which proved crucial as we missed out on the knockout stage for scoring one fewer away goal than the Ukrainian club in our head-to-head games.

Willian was playing for Chelsea when we next visited Ukraine in October 2015, but both he and Eden Hazard were unfortunate not to score as they hit the woodwork in our 0-0 draw with Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League.

The Brazilian was on fire though on our most recent visit to the former Soviet Union a year ago for a Champions League meeting with Azerbaijani league champions Qarabag in front of a crowd of 67,100 at Olympic Stadium in Baku.

He scored two goals and was fouled twice for penalties, which were duly despatched by Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, as we recorded a comprehensive 4-0 win over the Azeri side.