|Russia kickoff the World Cup 2018 on Thursday June 14 against Saudi Arabia. Russia come into the tournament ranked 70th in the world and the lowest ranked national team at the World Cup.
Manager Stanislav Cherchesov has his work cut out for him.
Russia have never got past the group stage at the World Cup. On all three occasions, the team has gone home following its first three matches of the tournament. In nine World Cup matches, Russia have won just twice, drawn twice and lost five times. History does not bode well for Cherchesov and his players.
Despite the team’s past lack of success at the World Cup, Russia received an incredible boost when the tournament draw was made. Russia will play Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay. It is the weakest group at the World Cup and Russia can get points from at least two of the matches. The team’s toughest group match will be against Uruguay. However, Russia will conveniently play Uruguay on the final group stage match day. The South Americans are expected to top the group and both teams could finish the group stage simply in need of a draw to go through.
Only two players called-up by Cherchesov play their football outside of Russia. The team’s reliance on a Russian Premier League-based talent could come back to hurt the team in the latter stages. Neither foreign-based player, Denis Cheryshev nor Vladimir Gabulov, will be figured into the team’s starting XI on match day 1. Instead, Cherchesov will deploy a group of Russian players he is familiar with that play weekly in the domestic league.
Striker Fyodor Smolov will be deployed as the team’s lone forward in a 4-5-1 formation. He has only scored 12 goals in 32 international matches. Despite being 34, former Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov will be played on the left flank. Against younger, quicker opponents, Zhirkov may struggle. Fitness could be a problem for the ageing player as the tournament progresses.
Russia captain Igor Akinfeev has 106 caps for the national team. He has long been considered one of the top goalkeepers in the world. Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s weak attacks will play right into the goalkeeper’s safe hands. If the Russians can stay defensively organised against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the team has an opportunity to secure needed points.
Cherchesov and Russia’s progression to the round of 16 will be determined in their first two matches. If the Russians are unable to get points against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, they will struggle on match day 3 against Uruguay. Three points on opening night will give Russia a fighting chance to make the knockout stage.