Manuel Veth –
The Group B match Russia vs Wales tomorrow at the Stadium Municipal in Toulouse will be the last chance for the Sbornaya to provide some positive news. It has been a disastrous tournament for Russia so far, both on and off the pitch, as Russia managed a 1-1 draw against England, and then lost 2-1 against Slovakia on match day two.
The result alone against England could be considered a success for the Sbornaya, but in truth the team, which is managed by CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky, played badly. The Sbornaya lacked both creativity and speed against England, and were lucky that England, despite fielding three strikers as well as Rooney in midfield, were poor in attack.
Russia’s Game Improved Against Slovakia
Russia played better against Slovakia, but overall the Slovaks were the better team. Furthermore, Russia struggled with the speed provided by Slovakia’s attacking midfielders Vladimír Weiss, Marek Hamšík, and Róbert Mak. Two of the three attacking midfielders were also the scorers, as both Weiss and Hamšík scored two wonderful goals.
Denis Glushakov’s goal in the 80th minute was too little too late. With two matches already played Russia have just one point and are last in Group B. This means that Russia will have to win their match against Wales in order to keep their hopes alive to reach the round of 16.
With a victory Russia would secure a third place finish in the group, and if England beat Slovakia, Russia could even reach a second place finish, and would automatically advance to the next round.
Of course that is a big if, as Wales has showed that against England the Y Dreigiau (Dragons as the Welsh are called by its fans) are much more than just a team dependent on Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale. Indeed the Welsh were just moments away from securing a draw against England.
Russia vs Wales – Slutsky Considers His Team the Favourite
Yet the feeling in Russia is that the Sbornaya should consider themselves favourites in the match. Slutsky will, however, have to come up with a solution to his slow defence. Both against England and Slovakia Russia’s defensive formation struggled against fast players.
With Bale, Wales has one of the fastest players in the tournament, and the Real Madrid winger could very well have a field day with Russia’s slow defenders the 36-year-old Sergei Ignashevich and the 33-year-old Vasili Berezutski. Unfortunately Slutsky has shown very little appetite to make a change to his back four—to be fair he doesn’t really have an alternative—and will therefore have to hope that Ignashevich and Berezutski can use their experience to contain Bale.
Speaking about Bale, Slutsky told the media: “Bale does like to roam into different areas of the pitch, so we’ll try to neutralise his threat zonally.” Indeed a collective effort could be Russia’s best chance to contain the thread that Bale imposes.
Russia vs Wales – Will Fans Behave
Off the pitch the actions of Russian hooligans have provided the biggest story of the tournament so far (read more about that here). Russian hooligans first clashed with English supporters before the England vs Russia game, and there was once again trouble involving Russian, English, Welsh, and French supporters after Russia’s match ended in Lille.
Now Russia is traveling back south to Toulouse to face Wales, and there is once again fear that British and Russian hooligans could clash before, after, and during the match.
Russia’s striker Fedor Smolov meanwhile made a controversial comment about Russia’s hooligans “From my side of things I’m not really going to make any statement. I’d like the supporters to continue to back us. As for everything that goes on around us, there is a number of videos that have been uploaded on the web, which clearly show that the English really did provoke them, and indeed the Welsh fans of course these events can’t happen in the stadium. But if people really want to go out with the intention of scrapping, they should fight elsewhere, they shouldn’t do so in the stadium – we want to have support in the stadium.”
Of course English and Welsh supporters were not innocent, especially in the riots that broke out in Lille, but his statement not only paints Russian fans, wrongly, as innocent, but could also be viewed as a call to continue the fighting, as long as it is not inside the stadium.
Smolov is one of Russia’s most talented strikers but it is clear that it would be better for him to focus on the game rather than making any statements at all. Russia’s manager Leonid Slutsky was quick to address the fans and urge them to remain calm around the Wales match. “A number of measures were taken after the match in Marseille to try and organise things in a much more civilised fashion. Of course I would like our supporters to continue to support us, and to really get behind us, albeit within the framework of the existing legislation, in a way that represents a civilised society.”
Russia vs Wales – A Mission Impossible for the Sbornaya?
The Sbornaya will indeed hope that the fans will behave in and around the stadium, as UEFA has already punished the Russian Football Union by fining them €150,000 and disqualifying them from tournament—the disqualification is however under suspension—but any further trouble inside the stadium would see the country disqualified.
Yet the tournament might be over sooner than later anyhow, as Russia will have to improve their performance on the pitch dramatically if they want to have a chance to advance to the next round on Monday. Another performance like the one against England and Slovakia, and the Sbornaya will be going home on Wednesday.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London. His thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus