FIFA World Cup 2018: Team previews

Team analysis | Russia: Tall order

Fedor Smolov. File photo

Fedor Smolov. File photo   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Escaping the group stages looks beyond a squad with few stars

Russia qualified automatically as the host nation, playing a bunch of friendlies while its rivals were busy with competitive action. The Confederations Cup campaign was a disappointment, with Russia winning only one game in the group as it failed to advance to the semifinals.

The absence of key personnel is a serious setback for Russia, with defenders Viktor Vasin and Georgi Dzhikiya, and forward Aleksandr Kokorin all ruled out of the tournament after suffering injuries this year. Cherchesov, who took over as coach from Leonid Slutsky after Euro 2016, does not have a single experienced centre-back to call on.

Team facts
  • Nickname: Sbornaya
  • Appearances: 3 (1994, 2002, 2014); (Note: 7 appearances as the Soviet Union till 1990, not included here)
  • FIFA ranking: 66
  • Best Finish: Group stage exit all three times
  • Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov

The retirements of Sergei Ignashevich and the Berezutsky brothers Vasily and Aleksey left a void; the injuries to Vasin and Dzhikiya have left Russia bereft of options. The team has conceded three goals in each of its last three friendlies, against France, Brazil and Spain; the signs are worrying. The draw has been kind, though, and there could be a way out of a group that includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay.

The goal-poacher: Fedor Smolov

Much depends on Smolov, who scored 14 goals for Krasnodar in the Russian league this season. In the absence of Kokorin, Smolov will be expected to lead the line alongside Lokomotiv Moscow's Alexey Miranchuk. The 28-year-old scored twice against Spain in November and also netted in the 3-1 defeat to France in March. He was the Russian Premier League's leading scorer in the previous two seasons, and finished second by one goal in 2017-18.

The orchestrator: Alan Dzagoev is still key to Russia's plans, something that was reiterated when Denis Glushakov was left out of the 28-member preliminary squad. A clever play-maker, Dzagoev is expected to play in the middle of midfield in a 5-3-2, supplying Smolov and Miranchuk. He is joint-second for assists in the Russian league this past season, with six.

Did you know?

Villareal winger Denis Cheryshev, a surprise inclusion in Russia's preliminary squad, is a product of the Real Madrid youth system and has spent the last 20 years in the country. In an interview in 2011 he described himself as "more Spanish than Russian" but was called up to the national team a year later.

Number stat: 6: The number of matches Russia have won since Euro 2016, out of 19

Coach quote: "Crying over the retired - it's not in our plans and not in our character. We have players, and they will be insulted, if we now talk about the injured. You need to be more tolerant, because we are starting from scratch again." - Cherchesov on the crisis in defence.

Fixtures (Group A): June 14 vs. Saudi Arabia, June 19 vs. Egypt, June 25 vs. Uruguay

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 8:00:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/fifa-world-cup-2018-team-analysis-russia/article23957208.ece

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