RIGA, Latvia - The Super Final of the Continental Cup as the second European men’s club competition after the European Champions Cup will open this afternoon when odds-on favourite Ak Bars Kazan from Russia plays Kazzinc-Torpedo, the champion of Kazakhstan.
Ak Bars with international star forwards as Alexey Morozov, Danis Zaripov, Sergey Zinovyev, Oleg Petrov or Finn Jukka Hentunen goes as a clear favourite into the tournament. Their payroll - Russian media estimated it around €35m - is a multiple of the revenue of all opponent clubs together. However, money does not score goals. The Continental Cup is a good prove of it. Last season, front-runner Avangard Omsk from Russia flopped against Belarus underdog Yunost Minsk in a shootout defeat after 65 scoreless minutes. And also the title-holder from the Belarusian capital played below expectations this season as they lost their second round qualifier group against Kazzinc-Torpedo.
The Kazakhs will be one of the three teams trying to trip Ak Bars up. Despite of the world-class offensive department, Ak Bars from the Tatar capital of Kazan could not repeat its success as runner up in the Russian Superliga. They are actually the number six of the league, which is nevertheless considerably better than their first opponents. Kazzinc-Torpedo plays also in Russia, but in the second-tier Vysshaya Liga, where the team is currently ranked fourth in the Eastern group.
Hosts HK Riga 2000 and Danish champions AaB Aalborg are the other participants and face each other this evening just after the opening ceremony. The Latvians may have the advantage to play in their home city, even though they’re not used to play in the state-of-the-art Arena Riga as now for the Continental Cup. At least, the Latvians were one of the three teams that could practice yesterday. The Danes had a bad hair day, as they missed their connecting flight in Copenhagen and just arrived at midnight in the Latvian capital. Riga 2000 will try to make use of Aalborg’s stress as they hope to attract hockey fans, which is self-evident for the Latvian national team but not for club hockey. For the club with a budget of approximately €700,000 it was not as easy to host a high-calibre tournament. “But it’s a great pleasure to have the Super Final in Riga,” says the club’s director Armands Simsons, “it’s not like a qualifier tournament as in 2004. It has the highest attention as it can have with well-known names and we have to show the highest level and maybe a little bit above.” The Latvians also remembered their own experience from the 2005-2006 season, where they won two preliminary rounds to qualify for the final, which was held in the Hungarian town of Szekesfehervar the last three years. Now, the Latvians want to convince also for future tournament allocations.
Although the Danish delegation was missing, the formal decisions at the directorate meeting were made unanimously. “The organiser is taking pains for the tournament and is well prepared,” says Hans Dobida, the chairman of the Continental Cup Super Final, “the teams are accommodated in an excellent hotel.“Notebook:
- Ak Bars has only announced 15 skaters and two goalkeepers at the directorate meeting. The Kazan-based team can add five more skaters and an emergency goalie not later than two hours before the first game. Ak Bars will decide after the practice.
- Ak Bars has declined an invitation to the traditional Christmas tournament Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, to participate in Riga.
- Five of the six games will be televised. LTV7 has live coverage of the Riga 2000 games, Telekanal Sport and Planeta Sport of Ak Bars’ games.
- 40 media representatives from the countries of all four teams are accredited.
- On Saturday, the daily programme will be supplemented with a game between Latvian and Canadian Oldtimers at 12:00.