Qualified as hosts, Russia look to make through to the knockout round for the first time.
The group stage exit at Euro 2016 saw a massive overhaul at the helm of Russian football. Stanislav Cherchesov was named the new manager replacing Leonid Slutsky to rebuild a squad for the tournament they host in 2018. Cherchesov got rid of the ageing players and injected fresh blood in to the squad, however things hardly improved since.
The reality check came in the Confederations Cup last summer when they were knocked out of the group phase with defeats to Mexico and Portugal. Many may think that the second place is up for grabs in Group A, so do the likes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
To be precise, Russia can be termed as tournament flops, if we combine their record in competitions – qualified just once from the group phase in 9 appearances. This includes World Cup, European Championship and Confederations Cup.
Russia’s Key Players
Igor Akinfeev is arguably the biggest name in Russian football at the moment. The 32-year old goal-keeper made 104 appearances in national colors, is without a doubt the most influential person on the field.
Yet, the player to watch is Alan Dzagoev, the skillful midfielder will be eager to make his mark after missing the Euro 2016 and Confederations Cup last summer through injuries.
The CSKA youngster Aleksandr Golovin is termed as the next big deal in Russian football since making his debut for the national team in 2015. The technically gifted midfielder is only 21 years old and World Cup 2018 could be his break through tournament.
Lack of firepower in attack is a major worry for Stanislav Cherchesov and Aleksandr Kokorin’s injury could weigh them down even more. However, this is a chance for other players to shine and Fyodor Smolov is one of them who has been a consistent goal-scorer for Krasnodar in the past three seasons.
Russia’s History at the FIFA World Cup
After removing those credits as Soviet Union, this is the fourth appearance in 7 attempts at the World Cup for the Russian football team. They failed to progress beyond the group phase in all three previous occasions.
The Final Verdict
Stanislav Cherchesov has the worst win ratio as a Russian national team football manager. The 27.77% from 18 matches is way lower than the next worst record held by Yuri Semin during his tenure in 2005. While, it is true that Cherchesov injected some fresh exciting talent in the squad, the lack of experience is weighing them down while coming against traditionally strong teams. Qualifying to the round of 16 from a group that includes Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia is a not an easy task and home advantage plays little role in these situations.
I believe that they wouldn’t be at the tournament if they were to go through qualifying rounds with this kind of a squad. Even if they manage to get through the group phase, their journey will perish in the round of 16 as they are supposed to face either Spain or Portugal.