Euro 2020: Russia hoping for heroics but with a team in search of spark

As Russia’s gamers did a lap of honour at Lev Yashin Stadium in Moscow on Saturday, taking in applause after their victory towards Bulgaria, consideration was already turning to a lot greater challenges looming on the horizon.

An 84th-minute penalty from Aleksandr Sobolev was sufficient to make sure Russia head into Euro 2020 with a win and a modicum of momentum, but latest type and lingering doubts over personnel and ways imply any overt optimism that the team can do one thing particular this summer season is in brief provide. 

“I have mixed emotions,” one Russia fan, Alexey, advised RT Sport after the sport. “The best thing about today was the crowd. The game wasn’t particularly interesting in attacking terms. But that was to be expected, it was a friendly.”

“It was a bit of a dull game,” added one other fan, Daria. “I wanted Russia to create more chances. In general, not bad, but of course we want more. Bulgaria’s a pretty basic team.”

Victory towards the unambitious Bulgarians adopted a pleasant draw towards Poland – minus Robert Lewandowski – in Wroclaw final Tuesday.

Next up for Stanislav Cherchesov’s team is their Euro 2020 opener towards Belgium in St. Petersburg on Saturday, one of two Group B matches Russia will play on dwelling territory on the pan-continental event.

‘Not simply lengthy balls and set-pieces’ 

Three years in the past at their final main competitors, Russia famously shocked everybody – together with maybe themselves – with their run to the World Cup quarter-finals in a heady summer season on dwelling soil.

This time round, some followers are harboring goals of a repeat, but it’s arduous to sense any real expectation.

“Of course they can [repeat what they did in 2018]. We believe in the team, but I hope the manager picks the right players and the right system,” mentioned Russia supporter Daria.

“If he selects players who are fully fit and ready, we’ll see some good performances and the same festival of football we saw at the World Cup.

“But I think Cherchesov needs to change the system, play more open and expansive football, create more chances, not just long balls and set-pieces.”

Fellow fan Aleksandr added: “I hope we can repeat what we did at the World Cup, but we’ve got a difficult group [at Euro 2020]. It will be tough, but I think we can make it out of the group at least.”

Saturday’s exhibiting was a helpful summation of the place this Russia team finds itself earlier than the intense enterprise begins this weekend at a event postponed by a yr as a result of of the pandemic. 

Functional but with out an terrible lot of aptitude, it took the late spot-kick from substitute Sobolev to interrupt down a tame Bulgaria team who had gained simply two of their final 26 matches. Russia created half-chances and had a objective dominated out in the primary half, but for a lot of the sport it was plodding and predictable.

The Devils you realize  

Belgium – the quantity one-ranked team in the world and among the many favorites for Euro 2020 – might be a wholly completely different proposition, even when the Red Devils are likely to be without influential playmaker Kevin De Bruyne when the groups meet in St. Petersburg. 

The two sides are acquainted with one another, having come by means of the identical qualifying group for Euro 2020. Russia suffered defeat dwelling and away to Roberto Martinez’s males, but exterior of these video games it was comparatively routine as Russia picked up eight wins from eight towards their remaining opponents in the group to qualify in second.

The losses to Belgium apart, that marketing campaign fashioned half of a groundswell of goodwill that Russia loved after their World Cup heroics. ‘Sbornaya’ hit 33 objectives in 10 qualifiers, conceding eight in return (seven of which got here in the 2 video games with Belgium), and the sense was that whereas not a actually top-level team, this was at the very least a group of gamers with confidence and restored nationwide satisfaction.    

More not too long ago although, it has been a story of regression for Russia. Last yr’s UEFA Nations League marketing campaign noticed Russia choose up two wins in six video games and was capped by the nadir of a 5-Zero hammering away in Serbia. World Cup qualifying earlier this yr started with wins towards Malta and Slovenia, but then introduced defeat towards Slovakia. Including the victory towards Bulgaria, Russia have gained three, drawn 4 and misplaced 4 of their final 11 outings. 

That signifies that heading into Euro 2020, Cherchesov faces comparable considerations – albeit on a smaller scale – to those he was pressured to contend with earlier than the World Cup. Back then, Russia had been on a woeful run of seven matches with out a win and beset with query marks over the fashion and personnel deployed by the supervisor.

Is Stani nonetheless the person? 

In the top, Cherchesov was vindicated by Russia’s run, but even after that questions have lingered over whether or not he’s the suitable man to steer Russia ahead and combine a new technology of expertise. 

A cussed and combative character, the 57-year-old was concerned in a notably ugly spat with CSKA Moscow earlier this season over feedback made on a TV present about younger ahead Fedor Chalov and his shortcomings in comparison with journeyman striker Anton Zabolotny. 

CSKA responded by issuing a public rebuke intimating that Cherchesov is seen as little greater than a glorified PE trainer, and in broader phrases the row crystalized the notion that that is a coach caught in his methods, reluctant to nurture some of the youthful expertise the nation has at its disposal.

In tactical phrases, Cherchesov continues to depart himself open to criticism. He isn’t towards tinkering with his formations, but solely inside an overarching dogma of pragmatism that leaves some followers craving extra journey and ambition.  

Three of a form up entrance

Arriving at Euro 2020, the attacking fulcrum of this Russia team stays its captain, Artem Dzyuba. Having returned from exile to grow to be a World Cup hero, the massive Zenit St. Petersburg ahead basked in ‘Dzyubamania’ after that event, solely to make nationwide headlines for all of the unsuitable causes when a lewd video was leaked on the finish of final yr.

The scandal was such that even Vladimir Putin was even quizzed on it at an annual press convention, but after a transient hiatus from the nationwide team Dzyuba was recalled and reinstated as skipper. He may break the file as Russia’s all-time prime scorer this summer season, standing only one objective behind Aleksandr Kerzhakov’s file tally of 30 worldwide strikes.

The two different designated forwards named by Cherchesov in his squad for Euro 2020 – Spartak Moscow’s Sobolev, 24, and CSKA’s Zabolotny, 29 – are very a lot in the Dzyuba mould: massive goal males who might be a hazard at set-pieces and crosses into the field, and a foil for teammates working off them in open play. Options who may need provided one thing completely different to the combo, most notably Lokomotiv Moscow ahead Fedor Smolov, who has rediscovered some type this season, have been ignored.   

Behind Dzyuba lie the twin sources of creativity in the team. Aleksandr Golovin loved a respectable finish to the season at Monaco after getting back from damage and might be an necessary participant if Russia are to attain something vital; Alexey Miranchuk, who performs a comparable supporting function in assault, has been pissed off by a lack of recreation time since transferring from Lokomotiv Moscow to Atalanta, but likewise brings aptitude to his nation.   

The predominant business in midfield is supplied by Roman Zobnin of Spartak Moscow, and he might be anticipated to begin alongside Zenit’s Magomed Ozdoev – a dependable performer and trusted by Cherchesov.

The Curious Case of Yuri Zhirkov

On the suitable flank, Mario Fernandes – the Brazilian-born wingback who’s a CSKA Moscow cult hero – is certain to begin, assuming he can get better absolutely from damage.

Vyacheslav Karavaev, nominally a right-sided participant but who can do a job on the left, appears to be Russia’s best choice on the other flank, though Cherchesov used Yuri Zhirkov towards Bulgaria and later recommended – to the bemusement of many – that the 37-year-old veteran was able to characteristic in all three group video games, regardless of taking part in simply 79 minutes of Russian Premier League soccer because the flip of the yr.

Defensive woes and younger hopes 

The largest headache for Russia is in protection. Following Igor Akinfeev’s retirement from worldwide soccer after the World Cup, Cherchesov settled on Lokomotiv goalkeeper Guilherme – one other Brazilian-born arrival – as his inheritor obvious. Never fully convincing, Guilherme was lower after the 5-Zero rout towards Serbia and hasn’t been seen in the squad since. Instead, Dynamo Moscow goalkeeper Anton Shunin, 32, is more likely to get the nod to begin towards Belgium. 

In entrance of him, Spartak Moscow captain Georgy Dzhikiya has established himself as an integral half of the post-World Cup set-up but is surrounded by fallibility in a back-three system Cherchesov appears almost definitely to make use of.

Fedor Kudryashov – one other Cherchesov stalwart with whom followers are far much less enamored – was pressured out of the Bulgaria recreation in the warm-up and is now a doubt for the Belgium recreation. Midfielder Dmitry Barinov crammed in at centre-back on Saturday earlier than departing with a minor damage, but must be match and would possibly step in towards Belgium. 

Andrey Semenov of Akhmat Grozny is one other man rated by Cherchesov and appears more likely to begin the Euro 2020 marketing campaign, but additionally has query marks over his potential at worldwide stage.    

From the bench, Zenit winger Andrey Mostovoi, 23, impressed in a cameo towards Bulgaria and is one identify followers will wish to see extra of. Likewise for Maksim Mukhin, a 19-year-old with a composed contact in central midfield, and who not too long ago joined CSKA from crosstown rivals Lokomotiv. 

“Cherchesov has shown the kind of organized football that we didn’t see before,” mentioned Russia fan Pavel after the sport towards Bulgaria, sounding a word of optimism.

“I hope new players will emerge. Mostovoi was good today, Sobolev as well. I hope they’ll be able to produce results.”

No Saudi stroll to kick issues off

Three years in the past on the World Cup, Russia had been handed a fortuitous opening task towards an accommodating Saudi Arabia. The 5-Zero hammering the hosts dished out banished the nerves, kick-starting a marketing campaign from Russia that contributed to creating the event the overwhelming success it was.

This time it’s Belgium who await first on June 12, adopted by a assembly on June 16 with a Finland team making their first ever look at a main finals, after which a tough task towards Denmark in Copenhagen on June 21.

The much less demanding Euro 2020 format signifies that the highest two from every group qualify robotically for the final 16 with the 4 finest third-placed groups additionally progressing to the knockout phases. That provides extra margin for error, but Russia will see victory towards Finland as a naked minimal and can wish to take at the very least a level towards the Danes, seen as their almost definitely challengers for second spot behind Belgium. 

Unlike many of his friends throughout the continent, Cherchesov has had the benefit of working with the bulk of his team for three weeks main as much as the event, after the Russian Premier League season ended in mid-May.

Just as he did earlier than the World Cup, Cherchesov used the time to take the team on a grueling coaching camp in the mountainous setting of Neustift in Austria, which final time labored wonders for Russia’s health.

That camp kinds half of the parallels with the World Cup build-up that may be drawn forward of this summer season’s event, alongside with lingering doubts in regards to the team and the supervisor – but the hope that after issues do get underway, these fears might be dispelled and Russia can as soon as once more spring a shock.  

By Liam Tyler 

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