Russia's soccer team takes the field against Spain today in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals with an unlikely and ardent cheering section—the Kremlin. The team, resurging after years in decline, can thank the hefty monetary backing of an oil magnate afraid to run afoul of Moscow. And, as Josh Patashnik writes in the New Republic, "This is Vladimir Putin's team through and through."
Only one team member plays for a non-Russian team during the regular season, a departure from the typical European soccer diaspora. Star striker Andrei Arshavin "wants to play for Barcelona, but I don't think they can pay him more than he earns now," says Russia's sports minister. And who pays Arshavin's $100,000 per week salary? State-owned Gazprom.