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Moscow ready for arrival of English soccer fans

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MOSCOW, May 2, (RIA Novosti) - Moscow is fully prepared for the influx of over 40,000 English soccer fans expected for the Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea FC on May 21, the capital's deputy mayor said Friday.

"We will do everything to ensure our Moscow guests are comfortable. I am confident that the fans will get a warm welcome," Valery Vinogradov said, adding that Russia's visa system had been simplified.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that visas would be issued by the Russian embassy in London on the production of a valid passport, completed application form and a copy of the match ticket, and fans would not need to obtain a visa invitation.

This was backed up by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who told journalists in London Friday: "We agreed that English fans would be granted preferential conditions for their visit to Russia."

David Gill the chief executive of Manchester United said that an agreement on visas had been reached, "If you are on an organized trip, your ticket will be your visa," but he urged fans without tickets not to travel to Moscow for the match.

Vinogradov also said that three Moscow airports would be used for charter flights from the U.K. with 700 coaches and 200 minibuses available to transport fans into the city, and the metro system would operate until 4.a.m.

Dismissing media speculation that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had booked up all Moscow's hotels, Vinogradov said he did not anticipate any problems with hotel bookings as the capital had 200 hotels and there were no other key events planned for May 21.

However, many media sources are reporting the trip will be an expensive one as fans attempt to secure accommodation in a city renowned for having the most expensive hotels in Europe.

The match may also prove to be a security nightmare, with fears of clashes between English supporters, notorious for their drinking, and representatives of Russia's growing hooligan scene.

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