Andrew Flint –
Russia vs Hungary – Wednesday 14 October – 19:45 GMT/20:45 CET – VTB Arena, Moscow, Russia
Such is the unforgiving nature of competitive international football that from a position of complete control, and despite remaining unbeaten, Russia are suddenly faced with the prospect of being knocked off top spot in their UEFA Nations League group tonight for the sole crime of drawing against Turkey. Their opponents Hungary were marked out as the weakest rivals in League B Group 3, and yet it is they who sit just one point behind Stanislav Cherchesov’s side ahead of their clash at the VTB Arena.
Turkey were as bright – as Futbolgrad had predicted – at the weekend and had large portions of control in the 1-1 draw. Towards the end of the match it was the hosts that looked more like the visitors as they fought off swathe after swathe of Turkish counters. One common criticism of Stanislav Cherchesov’s approach to international management has been his conservative instincts that would rather close out games than kill them off with attacking threat. During an international tournament like the 2018 World Cup that works fine when you are expected to cede possession to more talented opposition, but at home against teams of at best similar level it is not enough.
However, there is still the solid record he boasts to justify the lack of expressive invention on the pitch. Without Georgi Dzhikia at the back after the Spartak Moscow defender withdrew due to a positive coronavirus test before the draw against Turkey, there is a natural absence of leadership; Ilya Kutepov has only recovered from injury in recent weeks and is yet to fully convince as a stand-in.
Hungary have one clear star in their ranks in teenager Dominik Szoboszlai. The Red Bull Salzburg midfielder has caught the attention of Europe’s leading clubs with his technical composure on the ball, and in reality is destined for a grander stage than the Austrian Bundesliga. On the international stage he has accumulated 10 caps, but will not be collecting an 11th in Moscow as he has been withdrawn after being placed into quarantine due to three club teammates testing positive for Covid-19.
The vacuum left by his creativity will be a conundrum for Marco Rossi to solve. One option will be to adopt a more direct approach to bypass a midfield that will face a more experienced and settled pairing in Roman Zobnin and Magomed Ozdoev, which could see Nemanja Nikolić partner Ádám Szalai up front.
Already the formula is simple; Hungary are only one point behind Russia in the group with two more games to go. It is most likely going to represent their best chance of reaching a first World Cup since 1986, and although the odds are still very slim of them making the finals themselves – only two UEFA nations will reach the qualifying playoffs for Qatar 2022 via the Nations League route – the incentive to claim arguably their biggest scalp by toppling Russia is clear to see.
Russia vs Hungary – Players to Watch
Roman Zobnin #11 – Russia (Spartak Moscow)
Roman Zobnin has a rare ability among Russian players of the current generation to adapt to different positions with seamless ease. For his club he has been moved back to a right wingback position to accommodate Domenico Tedesco’s plans in midfield, but for Russia he remains a key figure in central midfield, where he has played the majority of his career. Rather than complain and allow his form to dip, he has developed an impressive stamina and cultivated decision-making, skills he will need to allow the attacking unit to break quickly, as Cherchesov likes them to do.
Ádám Szalai #9 – Hungary (FSV Mainz 05)
The veteran forward has not had a great deal of game time of late for his club FSV Mainz 05, making on DFB Pokal appearance this season. He has spent the vast majority of his career in Germany, however, playing for Stuttgart, Mainz, Schalke, Hoffenheim and Hannover – with a three-year spell in Real Madrid’s youth setup over a decade ago – and has scored 24 times for his country, so his mostly aerial threat cannot be ignored. Playing away from home against the group leaders means it is more than likely Marco Rossi will rely on his hold-up play to relieve pressure on the midfield.
Russia vs Hungary – Match Statistics
- Russia remain the only unbeaten side in the group with seven points from the first half of matches
- Both sides have scored in three of the four previous meetings, with the only time Russia dropped points coming in a friendly over a decade ago
- Russia have scored more goals (7) than all three other sides in the group combined
- Russia won the return match in Budapest 3-2 in September
- Hungary have won their last three competitive away matches
Futbolgrad prediction: Russia 2-0 Hungary
Russia vs Hungary – Possible Lineups
Shunin – Fernandes, Kudryashev, Kutepov, Zhirkov, Ozdoev, Zobnin, Ionov, Miranchuk, Cheryshev, Dzyuba
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov
Gulácsi – Bese, Lang, Orban, Botka, Nego – Nagy, Kalmár, Gazdag – Szalai, Nikolić
Manager: Marco Rossi