Moscow awoke to grey skies and rain as the day of the UEFA Champions League final arrived. "Typical English weather," comments Alexander, a waiter in a cafe flanking Red Square. And even at 9:00am, the city's streets were beginning to fill with red and blue shirts, just as they have over the three previous days.
Some 50,000 English fans are expected to flock to the Russian capital by kick-off time, although a good few of them may struggle to find somewhere to bed down for the night. "There are no rooms left," says Fedor, the manager of one of Moscow's popular hostels on Afanasievski Street. "It's the same all over the city. There are just too many fans."
Some unfortunate supporters have not been able to make it into
the city at all, however, the Russian police turning back fans not
in possession of a visa or match ticket. That was the fate of Akeeb
and Anjali, two English friends who live in Kenya and travelled
thousands of miles to go to the game.
"We've got tickets," they explain, holding up colour photocopies of the items in question. "They're with a friend and he's already in the city. But the immigration officials weren't having it. They just said: 'No tickets, no Moscow'."
One diehard who did get in was Choo Choon Hooi, who has journeyed all the way from Malaysia with his ticket safely stored away in his wallet. "It was worth the expense," beams Choo, resplendent in his Manchester United shirt. "I've been a Reds fans for many years now and I was absolutely thrilled when my friends in England got me the ticket."
A peaceful party
At first sight, though, United fans seem to be in the minority. Red Square has an unmistakable blue tinge to it and many of the people milling around outside the Kremlin are sporting Chelsea shirts bearing 'Lampard 8' on the back.
Happily for all concerned, there have been no reports of any misbehaviour, due in part to the presence of 6,000 police officers in the areas where supporters have been congregating.
"The atmosphere's been amazing," says a clearly excited Callum Birchall, a Chelsea follower who has bucked the trend by sporting a 'Kalou 21' jersey. "We've been treated really well although communication has been a bit hard at times because not many people speak English. I have to say the women are very pretty though."
It is 11:00am and steady rain is still falling. The area around the Luzhniki Stadium is gradually beginning to fill with supporters drawn by the five-a-side pitches and the host of other attractions that have made the sports complex the focal point of the city for the last few days.
Nikolai, a 23-year-old Muscovite who has turned up to see what
is going on, can barely conceal his excitement. "I haven't
got a ticket and I'm going to watch the match at a friend's
house. But there was no way I was going to miss this party. Not
many things as exciting as this happen here."
Asked to name a winner, the youngster is unequivocal. "Manchester United. I don't think it will be that difficult either. Cristiano Ronaldo is better than all the Chelsea players put together."
And so, Moscow continues its countdown to the big moment. In
just a few hours, at 10.45pm local time, the most important club
match in the European season will kick off, with plenty of passion
and excitement guaranteed. The question is, when it is all over,
will it be the red or blue hordes who are celebrating in the
streets of Moscow tonight?
Regardless of the outcome, though, as the last few days in the Russian capital have shown once more, there is no other sport that can match the beautiful game.