RUSSIANS BANK ON WARM WELCOME

While Ulster’s Arctic-like weather put paid to Russia’s World Cup qualifier in Belfast, another Soviet side are banking on a warmer welcome when they touch down here this summer.

CSKA Moscow have become firm favourites at the Milk Cup over recent years and organisers have confirmed they will again contest the Premier tournament at the event which begins on Monday, July 29.

“We don’t always have scorching temperatures in summer but we reckon that snow is unlikely to be a problem for our next Russian football visitors,” said tournament chairman Victor Leonard.

“Our friends from Moscow always tell us they receive the warmest of welcomes when they compete at the Milk Cup and that’s something we are happy to hear, especially when they return home and spread the word about their experience.”

In the past the Russia national side competed in the Elite event and Spartak Moscow have also sent representatives to the competition. In fact, Spartak are the only Russian side to land a title, winning the 2006 Premier final when they defeated Rapid Vienna 1-0 in Coleraine.

“There is a strong desire from the bigger clubs in Russia to expand the opportunities their younger players can experience and taking part in European youth tournaments is a key part of their development programmes,” said Victor.

Six of the Russian squad in Belfast for the twice postponed World Cup game were CSKA players. The former Red Army club is active in 40 sports including ice hockey, basketball, volleyball and handball with its youth divisions forming an integral part.

Last year CSKA lost 2-1 to eventual winners Brentford but enjoyed a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the play-offs.

The Milk Cup draw will take place on Tuesday, April 30, at W5 in the Odyssey Complex, Belfast.

The welcome parade of participating teams begins at the Diamond in Coleraine on Sunday, July 28, with finals night on Friday, August 2, at Ballymena Showgrounds.

The Milk Cup is sponsored by the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland and is supported by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, BBC NI and the four Council areas of Coleraine, Ballymena, Ballymoney and Limavady.