Exhausted Russia fall at the last hurdle – Three thoughts from Sweden v Russia

Exhausted Russia fall at the last hurdle – Three thoughts from Sweden v Russia

Manuel Veth –

Russia have fallen at the last hurdle. A draw and Russia would have been promoted to the UEFA Nations League A. But instead Sweden v Russia ended in a 2-0 victory for the Blagult, who are now promoted to the top flight and also continue their positive trend in what has been a remarkable football year for Swedish football.

Sweden v Russia

Friends Arena, Solna
20 November 2018 – 19:45 GMT, 20:45 CET

Goals: 1-0 (Victor Lindelöf, 41′), 2-0 (Marcus Berg, 72′)

Here are some thoughts from Sweden v Russia:

The Sbornaya cannot compensate for the absence of key players

Without midfielders Aleksandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev, Roman Zobnin, Denis Cheryshev and wing-back Mario Fernandes the Sbornaya is only a shadow of the team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Midfielders Golovin, Zobnin and Cheryshev, in particular, played key roles during that tournament. Cheryshev was, in fact, one of the biggest stars at Russia 2018 but the midfielder is also somewhat fragile his talent overshadowed by his many injuries.

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That is in some ways also true for Dzagoev and Zobnin, as both have struggled with major injuries throughout their careers. But at the same time, Sbornaya head coach Cherchesov is very much dependent on the creativity of those players.

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In Cherchesov’s case, that gamble was fielding a midfield that included Aleksandr Erokhin, Dmitry Poloz, Aleksey Ionov, Yuri Gazinsky and Daler Kuzyaev. Each individual has enough talent to compensate for the loss of one of Russia’s key players but playing them all together meant that there was not enough power and creativity coming from Russia’s midfield. As a result, the Sbornaya never truly threatened Sweden, who in untypical fashion had 61% ball possession. Russia, in the meantime, completed just 72% of its 417 passes – in comparison, Sweden completed 83% of its 643 passes.

Artem Dzyuba needs a break

Russian striker Artem Dzyuba was a star at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The 30-year-old forward managed to resurrect his career on loan at Arsenal Tula last season and then took Fedor Smolov’s starting role at the World Cup.

His passion on the field very much meant that the striker became the face of a hard-working Russia side. As a result, he was welcomed back with open arms at Zenit St. Petersburg. But Dzyuba is a physical player, who uses his strength rather than finesse to break through defensive lines.

Sweden v Russia - Russia's forward Artem Dzyuba(R) vies with Sweden's defender Andreas Granqvist during the UEFA Nations League football match between Sweden and Russia on November 20, 2018 in Solna. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

Sweden v Russia – Russia’s forward Artem Dzyuba(R) vies with Sweden’s defender Andreas Granqvist during the UEFA Nations League football match between Sweden and Russia on November 20, 2018 in Solna. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

The striker has completely revamped his playing style over the last season or so and now puts in an extra shift. That means the striker regularly plays full throttle and with Zenit starting in the early rounds of Europa League qualification Dzyuba has already played 20 games this season in which he has scored ten goals and seven assists.

Given that the forward was given just a short break following the World Cup it is no surprise that Dzyuba seemed to shade in recent matches. Cherchesov rested him against Germany and many expected that Dzyuba would be unable to play against Sweden due to knee problems. At the end, the 30-year-old did play but lacked the service and the physical strength to make a difference.

Russia stumble at the final hurdle

One point would have been enough for the Sbornaya to be promoted to the UEFA Nations League A. Sweden, however, was always in control of this one and in the end were deserved winners at the Friends Arena in Solna.

It is a somewhat disappointing result for Russia, however. The Sbornaya collected an impressive seven points in their group and seemed in control after showing no signs of weakness against Turkey in both matches.

Even against Sweden in Kaliningrad Russia were somewhat in control but failed to score in a 0-0 draw, which in retrospect makes all the difference in this group. Overall, promotion to the UEFA Nations League A would have been the perfect ending for the Sbornaya that looked to build on a successful World Cup.

But even without promotion, this has been a good football year for Russia as the country can now look towards the qualification stage of Euro 2020 with a sense of optimism.

Sweden v Russia – Lineups


Formation: 4-2-3-1

Olsen – Augustinsson, Granqvist, Lindelöf, Lustig – Johansson, K. Olsson (Guidetti, 89′) – M. Olsson (Kiese Thelin, 71′), Larsson – Berg, Claesson (G. Svensson, 80′)

Head Coach: Janne Andersson


Formation: 4-2-3-1

Lunev – Nababkin, Dzhikiya, Neustädter, Ignatyev – Gazinsky, Kuzyaev – Erokhin (Ari, 77′), Poloz (Kambolov, 46′), Ionov (Zabolotny, 69′) – Dzyuba

Head Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov

Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.