How Will Russia Stack Up Against The Best National Teams In The World?
Get the best email in soccer.
History And Background
This tournament will be Russia’s first time ever hosting an international football competition in their history. The nation, home to some 144 million people where football is held as the major sport along with hockey, has been underwhelming to say the least when judged by their competitive record.
As Soviet Union, they had been to four European Championship finals and won it once — while reaching the semi finals of the World Cups remain their best achievement in the tournament to this day. However, since the country rebranded itself as Russia in 1993, they have not been able to replicate the same success achieved before.
The Sbornaya only made it to two out of last five World Cups, and failed to get out of the group stage. Although they did qualify to five out of last six Euros, they only made it out of the group once — a disappointing result for a country with a huge population and a good amount of resources.
However, they are now blessed with an opportunity to break out of their underachieving status and showcase the world what the nation is really capable of. The Russians will be hosting both the 2017 Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup, and they are preparing to at least make some noise in front of the passionate home crowd.
After a shaky start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, where the team only won two of their opening six matches, the Russian Football Union decided to part ways with a highly rated Italian manager Fabio Capello. CSKA Moscow’s Leonid Slutsky was brought in as an emergency hiring to turn the team around, and was given a year contract.
Under Slutsky, Russia put in a superb performance in the rest of their qualifiers, winning all four matches and qualifying as the second place team in the group after Austria. Not only they played well in qualifiers, but they also managed to beat Portugal in a friendly — a remarkable feat even without Cristiano Ronaldo featuring.
However, the Russians put on a forgettable performance once the actual tournament started, suffering two losses and one draw which put them on the bottom of their table. This led to the 46-year-old manager resigning in shame, after making such good strides when he first took on the job.
In August, the former national team goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov was given the task of leading the nation to the two big competitions coming up. The 53-year-old has a decent background, coming off of winning a double with the Polish club Legia Warsaw. It is yet to be seen whether the tactician is actually good enough to lead his nation to some success in the international stage though.
Despite the big population and amount of athletes Russia has, the national team is not exactly blessed with high-caliber footballers. It is even worse that some key players will miss the tournament due to injuries, which will surely give Cherchesov a headache when selecting his squad. The Zenit Saint Petersburg pair of Aleksandr Kokorin and Artem Dzyuba, who are the biggest attacking talents for the Sbornaya, will be out with injury issues.
Villarreal winger Denis Cheryshev and CSKA’s midfield wizard Alan Dzagoev will also join them in the sidelines, while the veteran center-back duo of Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski have retired from international duty — significantly weakening the hosts.
With all these absentees, the rest will need to step up in order to make some sort of an impact. Fyodor Smolov, who scored an impressive 24 goals in 32 games this season for Krasnodar, can be a key player for this side. Few other names to watch out for include Dmitry Poloz, who enjoyed another fine season with Rostov, and Aleksandr Golovin, CSKA’s crown jewel who has been closely linked with a move to Arsenal.
Russia has always been an unpredictable side, who tends to underperform in big moments yet has shown that they can’t be written off with a superb showdown back in Euro 2008. Without having to play World Cup qualifiers, the team has been warming up with quality sides to sharpen the players. They managed to draw with Chile and Belgium, while giving Hungary a 3-0 beating in their last three games.
With some quality in the squad and a massive home advantage, the hosts do have a chance to make it out of the group stage. However, the chances are slim especially with both Portugal and Mexico prepared to play their best to prove a point in this tournament. The Russians might put on an impressive performance, but won’t be good enough for the semis.
6/17 — Russia vs New Zealand
6/21 — Russia vs Portugal
6/24 — Russia vs Mexico