Russia are the only team who haven’t had to play a single qualifier in order to make the World Cup finals next year. That’s because, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, they will host the world’s most watched sporting event next summer. As hosts they qualify automatically and will go into the group stage draw in December as one of the seeded teams. So, for your delectation, here is more than you need to know about the Russian football team.
How did they qualify?
Automatically. Possibly via a brown envelope or two.
Who will I recognise?
Unless you watched the Confederations Cup this summer (don’t worry if you didn’t – you didn’t miss much), most of the names on the Russian team sheet will be new to you. Chelsea fans will remember Yuri Zhirkov, who played for the club a few years ago, but he is no spring chicken. The left sided midfielder is 34 years old but he’s expected to make the squad for the finals in his home country because quite frankly, there isn’t anyone better. The name Igor Akinfeev will ring a few bells you frequent Champions League viewers but probably not for the right reasons. The CSKA Moscow goalkeeper, and Russia captain, has not kept a clean sheet in the Champions League for 11 years – the last one coming against Arsenal. Back when they were good.
Who should I watch out for?
One of Akinfeev’s teammates for both club and country, Alexsandr Golovin, is a rising star in the Russian Premier League and the attacking midfielder has been chased by Arsenal recently. The 21-year-old has already made 15 appearances for his national side but is often left out of the starting line-up. If his form picks up in his domestic league then manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, may be persuaded to build his team around the youngster. Fyodor Smolov of Krasnador has 40 goals in just 53 goals for his club and is also a regular scorer for his country. Smolov has just 8 goals for Russia but is considered the main goal scoring threat in the side. Says it all really.
Who’s in charge?
Former Spartak Moscow, Dynamo Moscow and Legia Warsaw manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, has been boss of the Russian side since 2016. His combustible nature, combined with his moustache and waistcoat, make an interesting sight on the touchline. I suggest watching him if you get bored of a Russia game at the World Cup, which is highly likely. Now, they say you shouldn’t live your life through your children, Mr. Cherchekov disagrees with this rule. His son, baring the same name as his father, is a goalkeeper at Dynamo Moscow, the position Cherchekov Sr. played as during his career. Cherchekov did in fact play 39 times for Russia between the sticks and is well known in the country. He won two Polish trophies during his time at Legia but it doesn’t look like he’ll be adding to his medal collection next summer.
What’s their World Cup record like?
Russia have never made it past the group stage at a World Cup but they did have more success as the Soviet Union. At the 1966 World Cup, the only World Cup that will ever matter, the Soviet Union finished in 4th place and that record has not been beaten since. The Soviet Union were once disqualified from a World Cup play-off with Chile because they refused to play in a stadium where people had been executed just months before. Who’d have thought FIFA were an unfair and inconsiderate organisation?
And finally, if there any chance of them winning the World Cup?
No. Not unless Vladimir Putin gets involved.