As the 2018 World Cup continues apace in eastern Europe, we look back at all seven of United’s games on Russian soil...
The Reds first visited in 1992, and are yet to lose a game in 90 minutes within the world’s largest country (by area). But that’s not to say we’ve had it easy. While the World Cup might be full of swanky new stadiums developed to meet FIFA’s specific requirements for the planet’s biggest football tournament, trips east in the 90s were a voyage into the unknown.
Torpedo Moscow, 19/09/1992 (drew 0-0, lost 4-3 on penalties)
United were unbeaten across two legs against Torpedo, one of five major clubs that play in Russia’s capital city, but were eliminated from the 1992/93 UEFA Cup on penalties following the second leg in Moscow. Gary Neville had made his senior debut in the first leg at Old Trafford and the return took place at Torpedo Stadion, now the Eduard Streltsov Stadium, to the south of Moscow. The match was a tight affair, primarily memorable for Mark Hughes’s red card and the subsequent shootout, where Steve Bruce, Brian McClair and Gary Pallister all failed from the spot. The Independent’s match report mentioned that Torpedo’s players earned just £4 per week.
Rotor Volgograd, 12/09/1995 (drew 0-0)
While Moscow was one thing, a journey to Volgograd, just under 1000km away from the capital, was quite another. Few Reds had even heard of Rotor, and fewer still made the trip thousands of miles to the east. Those who did go estimated the number of United supporters present as around 140, and reports that came back spoke of Russian amazement at the relatively modest personal items that supporters and staff had with them. The collapse of the Soviet Union had occurred just four years earlier, and Russia was a very different nation to the one we see today at the World Cup.
The match itself took place at the now-demolished Central Stadion, which was on the same site as the Volgograd Arena, where England beat Tunisia 2-1 on Monday night. United were stifled and held to a goalless draw, as fans back home peered through grainy television images to try and keep up. The tie was more memorable for the return leg at Old Trafford, where United’s 39-year unbeaten home record in European competitions came under threat. 2-0 down after 25 minutes, we fought back through Paul Scholes and, unbelievably, Peter Schmeichel, whose late header ensured the record was preserved. But it wasn’t enough to prevent the Reds’ exit from the UEFA Cup on away goals.
Chelsea, 21/05/2008 (1-1, won 6-5 on penalties)
No Russian opposition this time, but a familiar domestic foe in the biggest club game of them all, the Champions League final. When United fans think Russia, this game is the first that springs to mind, and is it any wonder? A pulsating 1-1 draw, a divine United goal created by two players produced at the Cliff, Paul Scholes and Wes Brown, and finished by the mighty Cristiano Ronaldo, and then a nerve-shredding penalty shootout which Edwin van der Sar clinched for the Reds by saving Nicolas Anelka's effort. One of the greatest nights in the club’s history, shared by 21,000 diehard Reds in the Moscow rain at the Luzhniki Stadium.
'I had a plan for Anelka'Video
CSKA Moscow, 21/10/2009 (won 1-0)
A first meeting with CSKA Moscow, our most frequent Russian opponent, and a swift return to the Luzhniki. Antonio Valencia’s late goal was enough to ensure a first outright win in Russia for the Reds.
CSKA Moscow, 21/10/2015 (drew 1-1)
Six years later, to the day, CSKA gave Louis van Gaal’s United a Champions League scare. David De Gea saved a penalty but could not prevent Ivorian forward Seydou Doumbia from slipping home the rebound. United responded in the second half and a diving Anthony Martial header earned a point. This match took place at Arena Khimki, some 30km northwest of Moscow, as CSKA awaited the construction of their new ground.
FC Rostov, 09/03/2017 (drew 1-1)
Just 238 fans made the journey to Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, for the first leg of this Europa League last-16 tie. United would go all the way to the competition’s final in Stockholm, but not before dealing with one of the worst surfaces encountered during recent years. A Henrikh Mkhitaryan goal looked to have ensured a first-leg lead, but Rostov struck back early in the second half and gave themselves hope for the return leg at Old Trafford.
CSKA Moscow, 27/09/2017 (won 4-1)
Europa League success ensured a return to the Champions League, and another meeting with CSKA, whose new stadium, the VEB Arena, was now complete. There are so many new-build stadiums in Russia due to the World Cup that grounds like the VEB were not even included in the Russians’ bid, despite CSKA being one of the country’s biggest and most famous clubs. United’s first visit brought about our most comfortable victory yet in the country – a 4-1 win in which Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial capitalised on some loose defending.
It’s a result that looks to have given United’s World Cup stars some confidence – none of the Reds involved out in Russia are yet to see their countries lose a match!