First Channel scores soccer match

Nabs live transmission of Russia vs. England

MOSCOW — Russia’s top-ranking state broadcaster the First Channel set out to score its own winning goal Wednesday evening with its exclusive live transmission of the crucial Russia vs. England Euro 2008 soccer championship qualifying match.

The pubcaster was fielding no fewer than 22 cameras, two for every player, and 200 staff for its live coverage that began an hour before kick off at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium at 7 p.m. local time.

Coverage of fans arriving at the stadium — including some 1,000 England fans who had flown in to cheer their team on — and expert commentary was followed by live transmission of a match that cleared the streets of Russia’s towns and cities.

The channel’s coverage of the match included the first use on Russian television of a computer graphics system that allows viewers to see a goal scored from the player’s point of view moments after a ball is netted.

“The First Channel has exclusive rights to the match and even viewers in England will see only footage shot by our channel and licensed to their own local channels,” Vladimir Smirnov, a spokesman for the First Channel told Variety before the match.

“We are using a 3-D computer graphic system that has not been used in Russia before to enhance the viewers’ experience of the live game; if it is a success we shall sign a longer term contract to license the technology,” Smirnov added.

Program managers expected the match — a critical Group E qualifier for the Euro 2008 championship — to attract an audience share as high as 30% or more, Smirnov added.

Dmitri Anisimov, a producer with state channel Sport TV — which planned to screen edited match highlights Thursday, said that although he was disappointed his channel was not screening the game live he would be watching it.

“I’ll pay close attention to how good the computer graphics are,” he quipped.

Although the match was only a qualifier, the Russian side needed to beat England in order to maintain its hopes of playing in next year’s Euro 2008; a draw would have substantially reduced its chances.

With the stakes high and the game being played in a country where national pride ahead of crucial parliamentary elections in December is noticeably on the rise, Russian police were taking no chances Wednesday: more than 5,000 including mounted police, dog handlers and the feared OMON riot police, were on duty at the match with another 1,000 patrolling Moscow’s streets.

The British embassy officially advised British fans in the city for the match to be as inconspicuous as possible amid reports that Russian and English soccer hooligans had agreed to schedule set piece fights.

Four British fans were briefly hospitalized in Moscow Wednesday after being beaten up.

Russia won the match 2-1, after England squandered a second-half lead. Russia now needs to beat Israel on Nov. 17 and Andorra on Nov. 21 to advance to the knockout stages of the tournament.