It may be the biggest country on Earth, but one of the most, if not the most, controversial. Russia has a long and dark association with corruption, and issue that is not showing any signs of going away.
From Vladimir Putin’s blatant rigging of public elections, to being one of the few capitalist countries with no freedom of speech, the country is never far away from causing heated debate. But in sporting terms, the corruption is becoming ever more and more evident.
This season’s Russian Premier League has been overshadowed by some of the worst refereeing that has been seen for a long time, and even for Russian standards, the referring has been exceptionally poor. And the recent Russian Cup semi final match between Zenit and Anzhi has highlighted all the problems that Russia faces if it is really going to make it as a world footballing superpower.
With the game taking place in Saint Petersburg, Zenit were the clear favourites to advance to the final, where CSKA Moscow laid in wait. Zenit didn’t waste any time in trying to live up to their pre match tags, attacking right from the first whistle.
While the score after the first half was 0-0 nothing looked too suspicious despite Zenit failing to score, but there was already a feeling it just wasn’t going to be their day. Hulk rattled the crossbar with a rasping long range drive, and Vladimir Gabulov was working miracles in the Anzhi goal, fending off numerous shots as Zenit laid siege to the Anzhi goal.
In the second half though, the script was torn up. Samuel Eto’o slotted home a 20 yard drive into the low left hand corner and with that, Anzhi held on and claimed their second place in the Russian Cup final in their relatively short history, and leaving Zenit with the probability of being left without a trophy for the first time since 2009.
Why Anzhi won though, is quite clear to everyone who watched the game with open eyes. For me personally, this match was the most clearly fixed for a very long time. Look a bit more into the politics of the whole situation though, and everything starts to become more clear.
The Cup final this year will take place in Terek’s relatively new arena in Grozny, and with the game taking place in the Chechen capital, it was pretty obvious why it was decided that Anzhi would be in the final before the semi finals took place.
If Zenit had progressed to the final, not too many fans would have been able to make the trip to Grozny from Saint Petersburg, and a final that involved CSKA and Zenit wouldn’t had of attracted too many football fans in Grozny to buy a ticket either. But with Anzhi in the final, it’s a totally different story. Dagestan and Chechnya are two of the most troubled places in the world let alone in Russia, but they support each other.
At games of Anzhi or Terek, you can always spot a banner in support of the other teams in these southern Russian regions, and with Anzhi competing in this final, the stadium is sure to be pretty full. Anzhi fans can make the short trip over to Chechnya without many problems, and Terek fans will be out in force.
And of course, how great this will look for the Russian football union! A packed out stadium for the Cup final, it’s the image they really want to project out to the rest of the footballing world! Can you imagine what sort of terrible image would had been portrayed of football in Russia if the stadium would have been half empty with only CSKA and Zenit competing!
Sergey Karasev, the referee for the day, didn’t do a good job of hiding all this however. For Anzhi’s winning goal, no less than two clear fouls were committed leading up to the goal, which included Samuel Eto’o taking out Zenit defender Nicolas Lombaerts before unleashing his shot.
It didn’t stop there, as throughout the game clear fouls against Zenit players were just not given, leaving everyone in a state of disbelief, and Saint Petersburg’s new star man Hulk couldn’t hide his feelings against Karasev after the game, allegedly smashing down the door to the referee’s changing rooms.
Although with Hulk, his reputation does go somewhat before him. Needing just the smallest of contact to throw himself to the floor, he himself has been the centre of many controversial decisions which unlike this match, have gone Zenit’s way.
Corruption is Russia’s middle name, and you start to understand more and more just why many top footballers are seriously reluctant about making the move east. Hulk himself has been the subject of rumours for the upcoming summer transfer window, and if I was Hulk myself, I would be making a quick exit. The worst thing about the whole thing though, is that the Russian football union don’t realise how they are restricting themselves.
Russia is now one of the most powerful footballing countries in the world, and it isn’t just because of the money. The country continues to produce talent of the highest calibre, potential that is being wasted and overshadowed by the selfishness and just plain cheating by Muscovites in particular. Moscow is the corruption capital of the world, and not just in political terms. The Russian football union is controlled by corrupt Muscovites, and it is only becoming even worse and worse.
The only hope is that finally, someone from somewhere, will highlight these problems and at least start to eradicate them. Russia possesses more potential than most countries, but the people with the power seem determined in ruining their own country in turn for their own selfish greed.
And for football fans, it’s not the nicest of situations when you full well know, that you’re watching a game that has had its result predetermined in an office with dodgy crooks well before the game took place.
But to be left with your pride, is more important than anything.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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