Lokomotiv players remained in disbelief, one day after CSKA Moscow had unexpectedly dropped two points in a 0-0 tie in the Chechen capital against Terek Grozny. Lokomotiv had missed a huge opportunity to come within three points of the current league leaders by losing to FK Rostov 0-2 at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Moscow on October 26. As a result, Rostov rose to fourth place, ahead of Spartak Moscow, and just one point behind third placed Zenit and two points behind Lokomotiv.
Then, this weekend Rostov’s run continued as they beat Dinamo Moscow 1-0. Because at the same time, Lokomotiv unexpectedly lost 2-6 to Kuban Krasnodar, and Zenit’s stony domestic campaign continued with a 0-0 draw at the Petrovsky Stadium against Mordovia Saransk. Rostov now finds itself on second spot on even points with Lokomotiv—Rostov currently holds the tie breaker with their 2-0 win at the Lokomotiv Stadium—after 14 matches of the current RFPL season.
This is a remarkable feat for a team that just weeks ago appeared to be on the brink of bankruptcy, and faced a player rebellion when several players complained about not having been paid for weeks. Furthermore, several players appeared to have boycotted Rostov’s Russian Cup match against the Football National League (second division) club Tosno—a match that Rostov lost 1-0 after extra time.
Since the defeat against Tosno, however, the club’s fortunes seemed to have turned around. Rostov coach, Kurban Berdyev—who famously masterminded Rubin Kazan’s victory against FC Barcelona in 2009—has developed a tactical approach in which he allows opposition clubs to retain much of the possession, with Rostov playing counter attacking football. In Moscow, this approach was deadly against Lokomotiv Moscow, where Lokomotiv largely outclassed Rostov on the pitch, but Rostov was able to capitalize on two quick counter attacks and a strong defence, to steal three points.
Against Lokomotiv, Berdyev also demonstrated his experience by bringing on the young Malian striker Moussa Doumbia, who scored a marvellous goal on the break in the second half, to seal Rostov’s win. Doumbia’s speed was an effective weapon against Lokomotiv, which was pressing high in an attempt to force an equalizer. This gave plenty of space for Doumbia, whose speed and freshness allowed him to escape Lokomotiv’s defenders.
This weekend’s victory against Dinamo Moscow in Rostov saw an identical tactical approach, and proves that Berdyev has still got the tactical knowhow that he once was able to show off with Rubin Kazan at Europe’s premium context: the UEFA Champions League.
But can Rostov retain the second spot that is necessary for Champions League qualification? Rostov’s vice-president Aleksandr Shikunov certainly believes that it is possible, but at the same time, Shikunov, speaking to Sport-Express, warns against over confidence “we go step by step—from game to game.” But at the same time Shikunov points out that European football could be a surefire solution for Rostov’s still existing financial problems “of course, [the Champions League] is a dream. And who does not dream about this? Also if we cannot find a sponsor here [in Russia], we must look for one in Europe (smiles). You know the European competition allows us to replenish the budget.”
Shikunov admits that the current financial situation remains dire, but adds that the regional government has stepped in to fill some of the financial gaps. This will be necessary, as UEFA does not look kindly on clubs with debts—their continued financial uncertainty may end the club’s dream of European football even if Rostov qualifies.
Feature image via uefa.com