Manuel Veth –
Russia vs Romania, which will take place at the Akhmat Arena in Grozny on Tuesday, will be the second friendly organized for the Russian national team during this national team break. It will be the first time that the Chechen capital will host a game by the Russian national team.
Under normal circumstances, the news of Grozny hosting a prestigious national team would have received far more media attention. After all, the memory of the most recent brutal Chechnya conflict is still fresh for both Russian and Chechen citizens.
The second Chechen War was the latest dispute in Chechnya—historically there has been political strife in the region since the Russian Empire annexed the region in the 18th century—and officially lasted between August 1999 and May 2000. In reality, however, the conflict was much longer as the insurgency was not officially quelled until April 2009.
There are estimates that up to 250,000 people were killed during the conflict—although the numbers vary significantly, depending on the source. Furthermore, political instability continued far beyond 2009, and some western government sides still issue travel warnings for the region—although some suggest that these warnings may be grossly exaggerated.
Chechnya’s flamboyant president Ramzan Kadyrov is just one indicator that the Caucasus is a very different place from European Russia. Kadyrov has built a personality cult that is built heavily on Chechen traditions and on enthusiasm for the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. This, in turn, means that the Russian national team can bank on heavy support when they kick-off against Romania on Tuesday evening, as the game is reported to be be sold out.
Given the fact that the Sbornaya disappointed in the 2-1 friendly defeat against Qatar on November 10, it might be perfect timing for the Sbornaya to play this match in Russia’s Caucasus where Kadyrov’s popular regime can shore up enthusiasm for a team that seems to have reached a new low point.
The latest low point against Qatar meant that even President Putin, who is by no means a football fan, got involved in the comments regarding the current state of the national team: “I am not supposed to root for any specific club team, but I am a fan of the national team, and I like to watch the beautiful game. Honestly though, we have not seen the beautiful game from the national team, the players have shown some encouraging signs, but we have much to do.”
These words could be interpreted as a direct effort to encourge national team coach Stanislav Cherchesov to move forward quickly and improve results. In fairness, friendlies are never a good time to show the true potential of a national team side. This is especially true for mid-November friendlies, which are played at a time when most players have very busy schedules with their respective club teams, and are simply trying to make it to the winter break without picking up a major injury.
Many in Russia, however, believe that the current results actually reflect the strength of the team, and indeed Russia have dropped to 53rd in the FIFA Men’s Ranking. At this ranking, the Sbornaya should still be expected to beat the likes of Qatar, who are, after all, ranked 91st.
In the light of this, the showdown against Romania, ranked 34th, will be extremely important to the goal of instilling some confidence into the squad before the team separates on the long national team break—the next set of matches is not scheduled until March.
In Romania, coached by the German Christoph Daum, they are facing a side that has just come off a disappointing 3-0 defeat against Poland in Bucharest. The game against Poland, which was overshadowed by a firecracker that exploded next to Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, showed that the Tricolorii are far from being one of Europe’s top sides.
But to keep to the theme of our preview for the Qatar match, the Russian Football Union seems to have selected sides that could simulate possible opponents at both the World Cup, and the Confederations Cup. Now, Romania will hardly be on the same level as Germany and Portugal, which are the two European sides at the 2017 Confed Cup, but the country would be an ideal test to simulate smaller European nation that could possibly be drawn into Russia’s 2018 World Cup Group A.
In light of all this, the game against Romania will be extremely important for head coach Stanislav Cherchesov, as he wants to end the calendar year on a positive note, and also wants to show the public that he is the right man for the job. Whether the team will respond is another thing, but one thing is certain, the Akhmat Stadium will be a cauldron, as authorities in Chechnya will make sure that the Sbornaya is greeted with enthusiasm.
The Squad List for Russia vs Romania:
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (PFC CSKA Moscow), Soslan Dzhanaev (FC Rostov, Rostov), Stanislav Kritsyuk (FC Krasnodar)
Defenders: Victor Vasin (FC Ufa), Georgy Dzhikiya (FC Amkar, Perm), Ivan Novoseltsev (Zenit Saint-Petersburg), Fedor Kudryashov (FC Rostov), Ilya Kutepov (FC Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (FC Terek Grozny), Roman Shishkin (FC Lokomotiv Moscow)
Midfielders: Yury Gazinsky (FC Krasnodar), Alexander Erokhin (FC Rostov), Denis Glushakov, Roman Zobnin, Dmitry Kombarov (all – Spartak), Magomed Ozdoev, Denis Tkachuk (FC Rubin Kazan), Alexey Miranchuk, Alexander Samedov (both – Lokomotiv), Yury Zhirkov, Pavel Mogilevets (Zenit)
Forwards: Alexander Kokorin (FC Zenit), Kirill Panchenko (Dinamo Moscow), Dmitry Poloz (FC Rostov)
Futbolgrad’s Prediction: Russia vs Romania 1-1
Dzhanaev – Kutepov, Novoseltsev, Vasin – Kombarov, Zobnin, Gazinsky, Shishkin – Poloz, Panchenko, Kokorin
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov
Tatarusanu – Tosca, Chiriches, Grigore, Benzar – Hoban, Marin – Chipciu, Stanciu, Popa – Stancu
Manager: Christoph Daum
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and a writer for Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of 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 will be available in print 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.
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