2017-18 Russian Cup – The Story so Far

The CSKA end at the 2016 Russian cup final against Zenit played at Kazan Arena. Photo: Danny Armstrong/RFN

As the 2017-18 Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) recently passed the first third of its duration, the week of rhe 20th September saw the matches in the last 32 of the 2017-18 Russian Cup take place, the first round where the sixteen RFPL clubs enter the competition. Like the league season so far, the midweek round of cup matches certainly provided a large share of intrigue and talking points. Here is a summary of the state of affairs in this season’s cup competition so far.


Cupsets here, there and everywhere

In the last 32 of this season’s competition, a staggeringly high ten RFPL sides were eliminated by lower league opposition? The secons highest of all time. Those eliminated varied from relegation-threatened Anzhi, who played 9,868 kilometres away from home, lost 2-0 against FNL side Luch-Energiya Vladivostok, to current league leaders Zenit St. Petersburg who suffered a shock 3-2 derby defeat against city rivals Dinamo St. Petersburg. CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Moscow, FC Krasnodar, FC Ural, FC Ufa, Akhmat Grozny, Arsenal Tula and last season’s winners Lokomotiv Moscow also suffered defeat. As a result, only six out of sixteen RFPL sides remain in the competition; Spartak Moscow, FC Rostov, Rubin Kazan, Amkar Perm, FC Tosno and SKA Khabarovsk. Amazingly, this figure of sides being eliminated by this stage of the cup is not the highest in recent seasons as in 2009, a total of twelve RFPL sides were eliminated.

So what are the reasons for this surge in cupsets? Firstly, the geography and size of Russia. As aforementioned, Anzhi had to travel almost 10,000 kilometres for a cup game just four days after a crucial home game in the league. Understandably, with such a short turn around, distance to travel in-between the games and a trip to last season’s champions Spartak to come just three days after the cup tie, Anzhi were always going to face difficulties winning despite Luch currently being in the relegation zone of the second tier. This travelling and turnaround dilemma seemingly also affected two other RFPL clubs, with Akhmat and Krasnodar losing away against second tier opposition Yenisey Krasnoyarsk and Tom Tomsk after 4,846 and 4,253 kilometre journeys respectively.

Another important factor is home advantage for the lower league opposition, combine this with the travelling distances and short turnarounds and it is perhaps not a big surprise to see such a high number of RFPL sides eliminated.

Saving Spartak’s Season

One side that managed to survive the cull were last season’s champions Spartak. The 2017-18 season has been an unmitigated disaster so far for Spartak, after eleven rounds , they are currently a massive thirteen points behind leaders Zenit and sit a disappointing seventh in the league. If reports are to be believed, Spartak owner Leonid Fedun is growing impatient and Carrera, who still receives widespread support from the majority of Spartak’s fans, is now facing a fight to save his job.

With the mass cull of RFPL sides in the last round, Spartak now arguably sit as favourites to win the cup, a trophy that the club last won in 2003. Catching Zenit in the league looks an impossible task and even bridging a nine point gap to second placed Lokomotiv will be very tough. Nonetheless, the third place, which will grant Champions League qualification, is still a very attainable goal for Spartak and should Carrera achieve this and win the cup, he can salvage Spartak’s season.

FC Rostov and Rubin Kazan – An easier route to the Europa League Group Stages

Rostov and Rubin are two sides who could be in the running for Europa League football at the conclusion of the season. After eleven games both sides currently sit sixth and ninth in the league respectively, with Rostov in particular surprising everyone this season. This summer, Kurban Berdyev returned to former club Rubin and their financial problems meant Rostov had to sell a number of their star players such as Aleksandr Erokhin, Dimitry Poloz, Fyodor Kudryashov and Sardar Azmoun with the latter two players joining Burdyev at Rubin. However, new coach Leonid Kuchuk has guided Rostov away from the pre-season predictions of battling relegation trouble so far.

Due to the large number of RFPL sides eliminated, both Rostov and Rubin will now see winning the cup as a very realistic target. Rostov having overcome Volgar Astrakhan from the FNL now have a home tie against fellow RFPL side Amkar Perm in the last sixteen. Rubin also have a very winnable tie in the last sixteen too, at home against the current leaders of the second tier Krylia Sovetov, who eliminated last season’s winners Lokomotiv. Furthermore, alongside the prestige of winning the cup, it would also represent an easier route to the riches of the Europa League group stage. Winning the cup would result in straight entry into the group stages and a guaranteed €2.6 million in participation money as a result, something both clubs could use.

Yenisey Krasnoyarsk, Surprise Siberian Semi-Finalist?

One interesting subplot in the cup is that it opens up the door for FNL side Yenisey, based in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk to potentially reach the semi finals. Yenisey are quite a rare occurrence in Russia, a side from a city whose most famous sporting exploit has not involved their local football or ice hockey team. Instead the local pride is the rugby team, which has impressed widely in European competitions.

Perhaps inspired by this, the footballing department of Yenisey now crave success. Last season, Yenisey only missed out on promotion to the RFPL on away goals as they lost a playoff match against Arsenal Tula. This season, Yenisey currently sit in a promotion spot in second place in the second tier after eight games. Their coach is former Spartak, FC Porto and Russian international winger Dimitri Alenichev. Promotion to next’s season’s RFPL is Yenisey’s target this season, however, with all the upsets in the previous round combined with the sides left in their side of the draw, Yenisey have a very real chance of reaching at least the Ssmi finals. In the last 16, they face fellow FNL side Luch at home and should they win this tie either Tom or RFPL strugglers Tosno await in the quarter finals. If there is to be a surprise finalist or winner of this season’s cup from outside of the top tier, Yenisey do look the side most likely.

Relegation or the Cup? The Dilemma of Priorities

Half of the RFPL sides remaining in this season’s cup, Amkar, Tosno and SKA, are all part of the relegation battle. However, considering that only six top tier teams remain, they now have a serious chance of winning the tournament. Therefore, they have to carefully think through whether they want to go for cup triumph and the income a European campaign generates, or put all efforts into surviving in the RFPL.

It is all about how risky the clubs are willing to be. The challenges in the FNL are well documented with high travelling costs and limited income possibilities, while a European campaign could generate both interest and income for the club.

A cup victory could furthermore mean a lot to the three clubs, who aren’t used to winning trophies and achieving great honours. It is something that could get people to the stadium, and excite the fans and communities.

The last chapter of the story about this year’s cup is far from written, and with the round of 16 being played at the end of October, surely we haven’t seen our last upset this season.

Heres what awaits in the upcoming round of 16.

Author: Richard Pike

Wigan Athletic season ticket holder whose first memories of Russian football were TV highlights of Spartak’s 4-1 victory against Arsenal in the 2000-01 Champions League. Huge fan of the Russian Premier League, other mid-ranking European leagues and the English Football League

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