Andrew Flint –
Russia vs Kazakhstan – Monday, September 9, 19:45 BST/20:45 CET – Stadion Kaliningrad, Kaliningrad – Russia
Mission accomplished. Once again Stanislav Cherchesov had to deal with questions over his team selection as he trusted his old guard that appeared to concede hopes of emerging with all three points. Once again though, his judgement was spot on. Fedor Chalov’s shock omission from the senior squad had been the main talking point prior to the squad’s flight to Glasgow; few argued afterwards as he was sent to help the under-21s grind out a valuable 1-0 win over their Srbian counterparts in Saransk. Yuriy Zhirkov was a surprise inclusion not just in the lineup altogether but in a midfield role that he has adapted in his dwindling years. It was the Zenit St. Petersburg man who bundled in the winner having surged into the six-yard box at the opportune moment.
A lot has been made of the revitalisation of the Russia squad of old that was dominated by cliques of players such as Igor Denisov, the CSKA Moscow defensive spine, jailbirds Pavel Mamaev and Aleksandr Kokorin and Andrey Arshavin. The new generation is bursting with more talent than arguably any group since the start of this century as faith in youth has been justified by stellar performances. There is something to be said for eking out the experience and professionalism from those that show it in the right way though. Captain Artem Dzyuba has shaken off the tag of class clown to become the teacher’s pet, while the fact that the shining light of arguably the finest academy system in Russia – Ivan Ignatyev – is hardly even in the conversation for a senior call-up.
Kazakhstan in all truth present no real threat, other than that of an obstinate speed bump on the ever-certain road towards qualification for Euro 2020. Having shown Scotland due respect and still emerged emphatically in control, it is hard to envisage Cherchesov throwing all caution to the wind in Kaliningrad. His understanding of the expectation now mounting behind one of the continent’s dark horses means the temptation to make wholesale changes are unlikely. This is a side that has a terrible away record but are still the nearest challengers in the group. For the first time in quite a while, the options open to Russia are seemingly endless.
A respectable 1-1 draw away to Cyprus has put Kazakhstan in the surprising position of having something still to play for at the halfway stage of a qualification campaign. In all likelihood Scotland will end up above them in the final standings, even despite the stunning 3-0 victory for the former Soviet republic in Nur-Sultan back in March. Nevertheless there is still a slither of hope that they can pull off what would arguably be one of the most impactful results in their history that would pile unexpected pressure on their hosts. There is even a certain level of optimism in the squad.
“”We watched our last match against Russia and analyzed the game. We’re going to surprise you and get points out of here,” claimed defender Yan Vorogovskiy to the gathered press on Sunday. “One or three, we’ll see how it goes. Anything can happen in football. We have prepared well both physically and psychologically.” Even with such confidence, the importance of the game is not lost on him. “Tomorrow will be the decisive match for us. We will fight to the end. We will fight for Kazakhstan, for each other, for our fans.” Pride is one thing. Transforming it into tangible results is quite another.
Manager Michal Bílek was more sanguine about his side’s prospects. “We had a tough match in Cyprus and spent a lot of effort, so there will be changes to our team,” he said. “In the spring we did not have enough strength, especially in the match against Russia. We saw the match between Russia and Scotland. We saw how Russia act after interceptions, so we will try to avoid mistakes in defense. But we will think about attack, and if there are moments, we will try to use them.” Striking a balance between holding firm and breaking out is not something Kazakhstan are used to being able to do. Even though ultimately their capacity to threaten may not be in their own hands, they cannot be faulted for their mental approach.
Russia vs Kazakhstan – Players to Watch
Yuriy Zhirkov #18 – Russia
The former CSKA Moscow winger, now more commonly used as a full-back of midfielder, is enjoying an unexpected Indian summer to his career. When first Elmir Nabiullin and then this summer Douglas Santos arrived in St. Petersburg to challenge for his position, it was assumed he would quietly slip into the shadows as his playing days wound down. Instead he has become a fixture for Sergey Semak’s side as a versatile left-sided player who uses his intelligence on the ball more than his now-defunct pace. His bundled winner in Glasgow was an example of his ambition to get forward when his more naturally advanced teammates have vacated the left flank. It is unlikely he will play the whole 90 minutes again, but his presence in the squad is a timely reminder to the younger generation that their places are far from guaranteed.
Islambek Kuat #7 – Kazakhstan
There’s no avoiding it; the visitor will sit deep and have to absorb a huge amount of attacking pressure, however adventurous they choose to be. The man responsible for sweeping in front of the backline will be Kairat Almaty midfielder Islambek Kuat. He reads the game from his deep position and at times even acts as a fourth central defender, but is at his most effective distributing the ball to his more mobile midfield partners. Often his role is unglamorous despite his ability to keep calm amid what is often very little team possession. His job is unenviable but essential if Kazakhstan are to frustrate their hosts and stage an unlikely smash-and-grab job.
Russia vs Kazakhstan – Match Stats
- Russia equalled their longest winning in 20 years, and longest in 10 years in competitive action, with a commanding 2-1 victory away to Scotland at the weekend.
- In home European Championship qualifiers, Russia are unbeaten in four without conceding a goal
- They’ve only conceded twice in their last 10 home European Championship qualification matches
- Kazakhstan have won just one competitive away game in the last decade
- They haven’t kept a clean sheet away from home in any kind of game in over three years
- In drawing away to Cyprus at the weekend, Kazakhstan equalled their longest ever unbeaten run in European Championship qualification – of two matches – since becoming a UEFA member nation in 2002
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Russia vs Kazakhstan – 5-0
Russia vs Kazakhstan – Possible Lineups
Dzhanaev – Fernandes, Dzhikia, Semenov, Kudryashev – Zobnin, Akhmetov – Ionov, Golovin, Al. Miranchuk – Dzyuba
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov
Nepogodov – Marochkin, Erlanov, Mally – Vorogovskiy, Pertsukh, Kuat, Suyumbaev – Tagybergen, Islamkhan – Shchetkin
Manager: Michal Bílek
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.