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Well, that was a disappointment. And that’s putting it lightly. Russia bowed out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil without a victory to their name, and it’s a tournament that all Russian fans want to forget immediately. Pedestrian football with a toothless approach doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, and so it proved with Fabio Capello’s men yet again failing to get out of the group stage of a major tournament.
But just where is it going wrong? Russia’s the biggest country in the world, and theoretically the country should be amongst the best every single time. But it just isn’t working out like that. The Russians have followed up their Euro 2012 fiasco with a terribly poor performance in Brazil, and while before the tournament I already knew this was far from a great Russian side, everything was a lot worse than I could have imagined.
Russian footballers are known around the world for playing incisive, counterattacking football, but that was simply non-existent. Russia managed to score only twice, and you could count the amount of meaningful chances that the team created throughout the tournament on one hand.
Just think about how England played four years ago in South Africa though. Yes, you got it, they played almost exactly as to how Russia played this time around. It’s not hard to figure out who was the manager of both sides. Fabio Capello may hold a superb record at club level, but history shows that successful club managers often have a hard time of it at international level.
In a combined seven World Cup matches the Italian has won just a miserly single match (1-0 for England against Slovenia in 2010), and it’s easy to see that he’s not comfortable at this level. And how he got it wrong with Russia. Not starting talented attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev was simply a crime, and pursuing with calamitous goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev proved to be a very costly mistake.
Capello’s tactics of playing slowly while keeping the opponents are arm’s length at times looked to be effective, but Russia does not have the quality in their squad to be able to hold off teams for the full 90 minutes.
Two decent results against Belgium and Algeria seemed to be in the team’s grasp, but a lack of energy and discipline cost them dear. But I just cannot understand Capello’s decision making. Yes, Alan Dzagoev has been in pretty ropey form, but for the national team he always finds his best game. Alexey Ionov, a pacy winger from Dynamo Moscow, could have injected some energy into the team, and young midfielder Pavel Mogilevets should have been given the opportunity to replace the influential Roman Shirokov who was ruled out before the tournament started due to injury.
The manager can’t be the only who’s blamed however. Had it not been for Igor Akinfeev’s shocking mistakes against South Korea and Algeria, the team almost certainly would have advanced to the last 16. I’ve never been a fan of his, but he showed just why he’s stayed with CSKA Moscow rather than moving abroad, and you can bet no one will be after his services now.
Star striker Alexander Kokorin, despite his superb headed goal against Algeria, didn’t turn up to the party, and the team seriously failed to click. Russians historically suffer from severe homesickness and their Brazilian adventure has only added ammunition to that theory, and while that may simply be a physiological problem, no one has the solution as yet.
It’s a good thing then, that the next World Cup is taking place in Russia itself. But just who’s going to play? Russia has a serious youth problem. There are virtually no young players coming through the system, and it’s a situation that is only getting more and more critical.
Of this current Russian squad only a handful of players will still be playing by the time 2018 is upon is, and just maybe the next World Cup will come too soon for the Russians. Four years is a shorter amount of time than it seems, and Russia have very little time to turn around what is a very deep rooted problem.
Russia isn’t the only big name to be heading home though. Being in the company of Spain, Bosnia, Italy and Portugal is fantastic, until you realise that the only thing that all these nations have in common is that they’re all on a flight home. Many have said already that the fact that every single member of the Russian squad plays at home contributed to their downfall, but that’s something which I don’t overly agree with.
Take a look at that fantastic Russian squad at Euro 2008, just about everyone played in Russia as well! The reason behind the failure is a lot deeper than what it seems at face value.
Fabio Capello’s contract runs all the way through to 2018, and I can’t help but think that was yet another mistake. Russia need someone young and fresh with ambitious ideas, because this nation has the potential to be one of the best. It’s going to be hard work, but the country does have the capabilities to genuinely mix it with the best.
One thing’s for certain, it can only get better.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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