sports blog by andy shenk

Russian National Teams Ready for 2013

In Russian Football on February 7, 2013 at 10:04 AM

I’ve added two articles on The False Nine today. My focus is on Russia’s national football teams, both Fabio Capello’s senior squad and the U-21 roster that qualified for Euro 2013 in Israel. There are links and a short except from each below.

Capello’s Russia Rock ‘n’ Rolling

“Almost eight months have passed since Russia crashed out of Euro 2012, falling 1-0 to the Greeks on June 16 in Warsaw and failing to advance from a group with Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic. Four years earlier, a nearly identical squad had reached the tournament Semi-Finals.

Back home, anger and disappointment over the result exploded on Internet forums, radio shows, TV programmes, newspapers, with politicians even stepping in to suggest various punishments for the players that had disgraced Russia abroad.

The reason for such intense despair lay not in the team’s 2012 collapse, a rather typical result since the break-up of the Soviet Union, but rather in the fear that Russian football talent was drying up. If this golden generation could not find greatness, what hope was there for the nation in 2018 when they would host the World Cup?

Indeed, success in Poland would have been but a temporary distraction from the fear and uncertainty over Russia’s next football generation, slated to represent the nation on its largest stage yet. Shame, both realised and that still to come, hung heavy over the country in the summer of 2012.

No one predicted what came next. In six matches between August and November, two friendlies and four 2014 World Cup qualifying matches, the national team went undefeated, banking 12 points in Group F, while battling to draws with Ivory Coast and the USA. The high point, a 1-0 victory over Portugal in Moscow before 72,000 fans, gave the Russians firm control of their 2014 destiny.”

Russia’s Under-21 Squad Set for Euro 2013

“Yekaterinburg, population 1.3 million, gave Russia’s Under-21s a hearty Siberian welcome last winter, playing host to their final Euro 2013 qualifying matches. On September 6 and 10 more than 17,000 fans roared in approval as the team handled Poland 4-1 and drew with Moldova 2-2 to move top of their group. Several weeks later, in the return leg of their play-off tie with the Czech Republic, the Russians drew 2-2, securing the 2-0 advantage established in Jablonec nad Nisou a few days earlier to advance to Europe’s Under-21 Football Championship for the first time since 1998.

Yekaterinburg proved a perfect host for the team’s final three home matches. Weary of sparse crowds in Moscow’s Khimki Arena, the players and coaching staff raved over the tremendous support at Tsentralny Stadium. The city, meanwhile, welcomed the opportunity to audition for its role as 2018 World Cup hosts and grab an early glimpse of the young footballers expected to form the backbone of Russia’s first World Cup team to compete on native soil.

Yekaterinburg’s own up-and-coming club, Ural, ended the calendar year second in the First Division, primed to return to Russia’s top flight for the first time since 1996. With a modern stadium in the works for the World Cup, the Siberian city’s football fortunes are rising. Local fans hope their club will finally stick on the national scene after only six total seasons in the top Soviet and Russian divisions since being founded in 1930.

The same measure of anxiety and anticipation surrounds the members of Russia’s Under-21 squad. Managed by former Spartak Moscow forward Nikolai Pisarev, the team’s stars – Denis Cheryshev, Aleksandr Kokorin, Fedor Smolov and Nikolai Zabolotny – drew a difficult group at Euro 2013. Germany, Netherlands and Spain, the last three nations to win the tournament, join the Russians in Group A in Israel. Their greater test, however, extends far beyond their Middle Eastern summer. For the next five years they’ll navigate club transfers, nurse injuries and battle for proper playing time, all while shouldering the football hopes of a nation yearning for international respect.”

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