sports blog by andy shenk

CSKA-Alania: Gazzaev Faces Former Club and Protege in Russian Capital

In Russian Football on September 13, 2012 at 11:45 PM

Following the Russian league’s two-week break for international play, CSKA Moscow returns to competition this weekend by hosting newly-promoted Alania Vladikavkaz.

Entering the Sunday afternoon match, CSKA sits 3rd in the table, while Alania treads water at 10th. Though through seven rounds, seven points and seven spots in the table already separate the two clubs, it’s unlikely that Alania’s visit to Moscow will result in an easy 3 points for the hosts.

CSKA has secured twelve points in the last four rounds, yet they’ve faced mediocre competition during that stretch, apart from a 1-0 win at home over Anzhi Makhachkala in mid-August. Indeed, of CSKA’s fifteen points this season, those secured against Anzhi are the only to come in a match with a top-8 club. Wins against Mordovia, Krasnodar, Krylia Sovetov, and Rostov are hardly noteworthy for title challengers such as CSKA. Coupled with embarrassing early season losses to Amkar on the road and Zenit at home, the army men’s only notable accomplishment in league play is the aforementioned victory over Anzhi a month ago.

On the international front, CSKA stumbled early in Europa League qualifying. Despite winning 1-0 away to AIK on August 22, the return leg in Moscow proved disastrous as CSKA gave up two unanswered goals, losing the tie 2-1 on aggregate.

Alania enters Sunday’s match in shaky form, having taken only one point against Amkar and Rostov in the last two rounds. Coming on the heels of victories over Terek and Kuban, along with a draw in Moscow to Lokomotiv, Alania’s failure to secure points early against fellow mid-table clubs will surely hurt their chances of finishing in the top half of the league. Nonetheless, Alania has shown spirit in its matches with the league’s elite, boasting the only victory thus far over Terek, a 5-0 thrashing at home, no less.

Sunday’s match offers CSKA an opportunity to stockpile points in advance of a brutal nine-game stretch from late September to early December in which they play each of the other 7 teams in the top half of the league, as well as city rivals, Dinamo Moscow. Meanwhile, for Alania, the trip to Moscow will test their ability to continue stealing points in high-profile matches. For the newcomers, every point gained or lost carries great weight and Alania’s outlook will be no different when they visit CSKA’s arena on the outskirts of Moscow.

Beyond the calculated chase for points, however, there is a more personal side to CSKA-Alania. Current Alania president, Valery Gazzaev, spent six years as manager of the Moscow club during the mid-2000s, guiding  CSKA to victory and much-celebrated European glory in the UEFA Cup in 2005, in addition to winning the Russian league thrice, in 2003, 2005, and 2006. Nonetheless, Gazzaev’s move to Alania in 2011, following two intermediate years with Dinamo Kiev, came as no surprise. Despite the general public’s association of Gazzaev with the dominant CSKA clubs of the 2000’s, his head coaching career began in his hometown of Vladikavkaz in the late 1980’s, where in 1995 he accomplished the unthinkable, guiding Alania to its first and only league title. Indeed, Alania would be the only non-Moscow club to capture the title between the league’s founding in 1992 and Zenit’s first championship in 2007.

Ossetian by birth (Vladikavkaz is the capital of North Ossetia), Gazzaev’s return to the club in which he rose to managerial prominence is one of the feel-good stories in the Russian Premier League. Content to direct club affairs from the front office, Gazzaev appointed his son, 32-year-old Vladimir Gazzaev, to be head coach at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. Alania promptly gained promotion to the top flight and is now set to square off with the elder Gazzaev’s former employer for the first time in a little over a year, when the two clubs met in the final of the 2010/2011 Russian Cup. CSKA won that match 2-1, defeating the overachieving First Division club from the Caucasus Mountains, but this time around the outcome may not end in their favor. As Gazzaev promised the press following the Russian Cup last May, “We’re not depressed [about the loss]. You’ll see, we’ll be even stronger next year.”

Standing in Alania’s way will be young Russian international and CSKA superstar, Alan Dzagoev, who also calls North Ossetia home. Born and raised just 30 km from Vladikavkaz, Dzagoev moved in the early 2000’s to a football academy in Tolyatti, where Valery Gazzaev, then CSKA manager, snapped him up at the precocious age of 17 in 2007. Dzagoev quickly earned a place in CSKA’s first team during the 2008 season and with Gazzaev’s decision to leave the club at the end of the year, Dzagoev took over as the new Ossetian star of the army team, as they’re known in Russia.

With both clubs looking to make a statement after the international break, look for an exciting, high-scoring affair at CSKA’s Arena Khimki on Sunday. Alania leads the league in total goals per game at 3.5. Their freewheeling, attacking style will surely enliven CSKA’s currently weakened stable of forwards (Ivorian international Dumbia has been out with back trouble since mid-August). Whether Alania can break through against CSKA’s stingy defense, 2nd in the league behind Zenit, is another question entirely, but they will almost certainly not be faulted for their effort.

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