With no qualifiers to play, hosts Russia have been desperately looking for sparring partners to prepare for the 2018 World Cup – even playing a friendly against club side Dynamo Moscow in September 2017.
Things only became easier when the top European and South American teams had finished their qualifying campaigns, with Argentina coming to Moscow and Spain visiting Saint Petersburg in November, and friendlies against Brazil and France planned for March.
Stanislav Cherchesov is trying to build a new squad after his predecessor Leonid Slutsky’s unimpressive Euro 2016 outing. In the absence of top-quality players and the departure of a number of the old guard, Cherchesov has had to look increasingly at young talent, although such players are scarce and lack experience.
Fans eagerly awaiting next summer’s tournament are more sceptical about the team’s chances than ever before. Qualifying from their group would be seen as a good result for the hosts.
Key Moments in Qualifying
Cherchesov steps in to replace Slutskiy and the team draw 0-0 away to Turkey in his first game.
Russia score two second-half goals to come from behind and earn an impressive 3-3 draw with Belgium at the rebuilt Sochi Olympic Stadium.
The team fails to get out of its group at the Confederations Cup, losing 1-0 to Portugal and 2-1 to Mexico after beating New Zealand 2-0 in the opening game. Despite much speculation Cherchesov retains his job.
Russia concede a late goal from Sergio Aguero and lose 1-0 to Argentina at the reopening of Moscow’s Luzhniki Olympic Stadium, which will host the opening game and the World Cup Final next summer.
Russia World Cup Group
Russia are in Group A for the tournament and have been joined by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Uruguay.
Russia World Cup Friendlies.
23rd March – Brazil (lost 3-0)
27th March – France (lost 3-1)
30th May – Austria (lost 1-0)
5th June – Turkey (drew 1-1)
Russia World Cup Fixtures
As hosts Russia will kick off the tournament against Saudi Arabia on the 14th of June. Five days later they will play the Mohamed Salah led Egypt, before ending their group stage with a match against Uruguay on the 25th of June.
14th June – Saudi Arabia
19th June – Egypt
25th June – Uruguay
Stanislav Cherchesov, age 54 (02.09.63)
Appointed in August 2016 on a two-year contract, the former USSR and Russia goalkeeper with 49 caps is a four-time winner of the national championship. He was a key figure for Spartak Moscow in their 1995 Champions League campaign, when they won all six group-stage games, and later won three league titles in Austria with Tirol Innsbruck before ending his playing career back at Spartak. After coaching in Austria he joined Spartak and later worked with Moscow sides Spartak and Dynamo before moving to Poland in 2015 and leading Legia Warsaw to the double.
Igor Akinfeev remains the first-choice keeper and has proved his top-drawer credentials on numerous occasions. Although prone to injuries, versatile box-to-box midfielder Alan Dzagoev is also key.
Akinfeev has more than 100 caps to his name and is closing in on Sergei Ignashevich’s national record of 120 appearances.
Ignashevich, along with Vasili and Alexei Berezutskiy, quit international football and their absence is a major headache for the coach who has had to totally replace his back three.
Born in Russia, Konstantin Rausch emigrated to Germany as a boy but after caps at under-21 level for his adopted homeland the winger opted to play for Russia. Another newcomer is centre-back Georgiy Dzhikiya.
Russia World Cup Squad
Final 23-man squad –
GOALKEEPERS: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow),Vladimir Gabulov (Club Brugge), Andrey Lunev (Zenit St Petersburg).
DEFENDERS: Vladimir Granat, Fedor Kudryashov (both Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Akhmat Grozny), Sergei Ignashevich, Mario Fernandes (both CSKA Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg).
MIDFIELDERS: Yuri Gazinskiy (Krasnodar), Alexsandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev (both CSKA Moscow), Aleksandr Erokhin, Yuri Zhirkov, Daler Kuzyaev (all Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Zobnin, Alexsandr Samedov (both Spartak Moscow), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal).
FORWARDS: Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Aleksei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar).
Russia World Cup Injuries
Zenit St Petersburg forward Aleksandr Kokorin could miss the tournament after rupturing ligaments in his knee.
Centre-back Georgi Dzhikiya has suffered a serious knee injury and could be out of the tournament.
Viktor Vasin could also miss the tournament after suffering a serious knee injury.
The Unanswered Questions
Can the new defence cope?
Victor Vasin, Fedor Kudryashov and Georgiy Dzhikiya have all been criticised for technical mistakes and poor positioning in recent games, but it looks as though Cherchesov sees them as his only defensive options for the World Cup.
Will Igor Akinfeev avoid mistakes in crucial games?
Although undoubtedly Russia’s best goalkeeper, he has made some costly errors at major tournaments such as the 2014 World Cup and 2017 Confederations Cup.
Will Igor Denisiov make a comeback?
As coach of Dynamo, Cherchesov had a run-in with the defensive midfielder which led to Denisov being banished to the reserves. Since becoming national coach, Cherchesov has not considered calling up Denisov, and this has continued as Denisov has failed to make the final squad.
Can the domestic league’s top strikers take their chances in top international games?
The Premier League’s top scorer in 2016 and 2017, Fedor Smolov of Krasnodar and Zenit’s Alexander Kokorin have not shone at international level. They were due to compete for the lone striker position or form an attacking duet but Kokorin is likely out of the tournament with a serious knee injury.
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