Barcelona 1-2 Rubin Kazan – The Greatest Giant Killing in European History?

Gökdeniz Karadeniz scoring the winner for Rubin Kazan v Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Source: rubin-kazan.ru

In 2008 and 2009, FC Barcelona were at the top of the footballing world. They won every trophy available to them: La Liga, the Copa Del Rey, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. The squad that the Catalan’s had put together under the management of Pep Guardiola is widely regarded as one of the best teams of all time with Carles Puyol, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández at the peak of their careers, alongside stars such as Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Yaya Touré and Thierry Henry.

On the 20th October 2009, Barcelona hosted a little-known club from Russia named Rubin Kazan for a Champions League group stage match. The Russians were playing their debut season in the Champions League, having been crowned Russian champions for the first time in the 2008 season. Rubin had been comfortably dispatched 3-1 by Dynamo Kyiv in their opening group match, before holding a sub-par Inter Milan to a 1-1 draw in Kazan, so Barcelona, at their footballing peak, went into the game at the Nou Camp expecting nothing but a win.

So how was it, that on this night, a side full of players no one had heard of, managed by an ageing Turkmen vigorously rubbing prayer beads, were able to secure victory at the home of the best team in the world?

Barcelona did not hold back with their team selection, and named most of their big stars, their starting eleven was; Victor Valdés, Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Rafael Márquez, Éric Abidal, Yaya Touré, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimović, and Pedro with Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets and Bojan among the substitutes.

As for Rubin, they were able to name most of their “big” players. Alejandro Domínguez was vital in their title win, and he was able to start along with their captain Sergey Semak, however, target man Aleksandr Bukharov missed out through injury. Rubin lined up; Sergey Ryzhikov; Lasha Salukvadze, César Navas, Roman Sharonov, Cristian Ansaldi; Vitaly Kaleshin, Christian Noboa, Sergey Semak, Aleksandr Ryazantsev, Gökdeniz Karadeniz; Alejandro Dominguez.

Rubin with their small squad were only able to name six substitutes, with no big names among them, even for Russian standards. The starting line up was made of five Russians, two Argentines, one Ecuadorian, one Georgian, one Turk and one Spaniard.

 

The Match

Barcelona started the game well on the front foot, and within the first minute, Ibrahimović and Iniesta linked up on the edge of the box, with only a last-ditch tackle from Cristian Ansaldi denying the Spaniard a huge goalscoring opportunity. The tackle drew whistles and boos from the home crowd, desperate for a penalty. Television pictures switched to a replay, showing that indeed Ansaldi had flicked the ball away cleanly with his right boot.

As the UEFA fadeaway graphic signalled the end of the replay, the first sight for viewers when rejoining the action was a ball hurtling towards the Barcelona goal, and immediately hitting the back of the net. Rubin had scored, and no one watching on TV knew how it had happened. Aleksandr Ryazantsev wheeled away in celebration and was immediately surrounded by his delighted teammates. After just 90 seconds of football at the Nou Camp, Rubin had taken the lead. The small gathering of Rubin fans in the stands were in ecstasy, the rest of the crowd had fallen silent or resorted to whistling or mumbling.

Replays quickly cleared up how the goal had played out. A long goal kick was heading straight to feet of Rafa Márquez around 35 yards from his own goal. The ball was dropping from a height and Márquez was unchallenged in bringing the ball down, but his control was poor. The ball bounced off his right foot and spun away towards Ryazantsev, who with a three step run-up, struck an unstoppable shot in off the post in the top right corner of the goal.

 

Barcelona were shellshocked, but they carried on where they left off before the goal, just two minutes later, Ibrahimović was put through by Iniesta but found Ryzhikov’s outstretched left arm between him and the goal. The first save in a busy evening for the Rubin goalkeeper.

Rubin had set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Dominguez played the role of attacking midfielder, sitting around 30-40 yards from his own goal, waiting for any scraps, while Gökdeniz Karadeniz was the sole striker, tasked with chasing any long balls and hounding defenders. After Ibrahimović’s shot, Rubin’s defence held steady for the rest of the opening ten minutes, preventing any more chances. The next attempt came in the 14th minute, Pedro found space in behind on the left, and his pull back was hit just wide by Dani Alves, whistling off the side netting and prompting premature celebrations from some sections of the stadium. A warning sign for Rubin.

Barcelona next threatened Ryzhikov’s goal in the 23rd minute, a deep cross from Dani Alves was met by Pedro, but his header was turned around the post by Ryzhikov. A good save by the goalkeeper, but the chance was never going to cause major problems for him. A few minutes later, Rubin were finally troubled by Lionel Messi, who had been lacklustre in the opening quarter. After a 1-2 with Pedro, Messi was bearing down on Ryzhikov, but Salukvadze executed a perfect challenge to take the ball away. Any wrong decision from the Georgian would have resulted in a penalty and almost certainly a red card.

A theme for all of Barcelona’s openings so far was that they all came from wide positions, so while they were comfortable controlling the ball in the middle of the park, unless they were willing to go wide and take players on, many of the normal channels were being comfortably closed down by the Rubin defence.

In the 35th minute, a statistic flashed up on the screen. It showed that Barcelona had made 252 passes, compared to Rubin’s 67, equating to roughly an 80% – 20% possession split, underlining the sheer dominance Barcelona were having, but the key statistic – the scoreline, remained in the favour of the underdogs.

In the 38th minute, Barcelona finally forced another shot, Messi taking the ball past two players before shooting from 20 yards, the shot took a small deflection to take the power out of it before Ryzhikov dived to his left to palm it away.

Before the first half ended, Rubin were even able to muster a chance of their own, Vitaly Kaleshin wriggling past three players before being brought down by Pique. The resulting free kick from 20 yards was struck well by Domínguez, but was held comfortably by Valdés in goal. The last notable event of the half was that Rubin captain Sergey Semak limped off injured, to be replaced by Polish midfielder Rafał Murawski. Barcelona could not threaten again before half time, and Rubin went into the tunnel after 45 minutes, leading 1-0.

However, within two minutes of the restart, Barcelona had restored parity. Xavi crept over the halfway line and played a ball over the top of Rubin’s defence, Ibrahimovic brought the ball down on the chest, the perfect touch out of his feet and blasted it into the far corner, to send the Barcelona fans into raptures. The sheer power of the strike left Ryzhikov helpless, but he lambasted Navas and Sharonov for allowing Ibrahimović to have the space he did.

After levelling the scores, Barca struggled to create anything. The ball remained in midfield, just going from side to side. It took until the 60th minute before they even got another shot off, a soft effort from Pedro straight at Ryzhikov, nothing to get excited about, though the move was incisive. Messi was the next to test his luck, but another speculative effort from outside the box rolled tamely into Ryzhikov’s arms. Shortly afterwards, Bojan was the first substitute, replacing Pedro on the left wing. Little did Rubin know this substitution would change their history forever.

In the 72nd minute, Barcelona once again were slowly building an attack from the back. Abidal moved forward over the halfway line and fed a pass through to Bojan as he cut inside from the flank. He was being closed down by Murawski and Salukvadze, and his rushed pass towards Xavi was intercepted by Noboa, who stretched out his leg to poke the ball towards the centre circle. Domínguez was there waiting, he allowed the ball to come towards him, drawing in Yaya Touré, before skipping past him as the Ivorian committed to the challenge. This left Rubin in a two-on-two, Domínguez running at Piqué and Márquez, with Gökdeniz charging past him into space. Dominguez waited and waited, before playing the ball through for the diminutive Turk. The ball rolled perfectly into his path, and just sat up for him to strike the ball past Valdés and into the far corner. Rubin were back in front.

From the double pincer pressure on an inexperienced Bojan, forcing a rushed pass, to moments of individual quality from Domínguez and Gökdeniz, this was not a goal born from luck. This was the persistence, work rate and skill, and had taken them to the 72nd minute of a game against Barcelona at the Nou Camp leading 2-1.

Gökdeniz was promptly mobbed by his teammates. The Rubin fans were once again rapturous, while Berdyev on the sidelines showed real emotion for the first time in the game, screaming with joy as the ball hit the net.

Barcelona had around a quarter of an hour to hit back, to save themselves from embarrassment. In the 78th minute, the anticipated onslaught began. A ball over the top was nodded across to Ibrahimović, and his volley struck the crossbar. Had it been any lower, Ryzhikov would likely have saved as it was straight down the middle, but it was a statement of intent nevertheless.

Xavi was the next to test the goalkeeper, but it was a poor effort from outside the box straight down Ryzhikov’s throat. With time ticking, Barcelona were able to muster one final chance. In the last minute of four added on, a corner whipped in from the left was met by Yaya Toure, his header crashing off the post, before being hacked away by Christian Noboa. Inches were all that was between Rubin going down in history, and a forgettable 2-2 draw.

But that was that. Rubin dealt with the last few moments, and as Ryzhikov took one last goal kick, the whistle was blown. Rubin Kazan had done the impossible. They had struck down the world’s greatest team in their own back yard.

 

Legacy

In their remaining group matches, Rubin held Barcelona to a 0-0 draw in Kazan, eventually securing a third place finish and a spot in the Europa League, where they eventually met their demise in the quarter finals against Wolfsburg, going down to a 119th-minute goal. Rubin’s positive record against Barcelona would continue, as they were drawn together again the following season, once again holding the Spaniards to a draw in Kazan, but unable to replicate their heroics in Catalonia, going down 2-0.

As a result of these matches, goalkeeper Sergey Ryzhikov is the only goalkeeper to have faced Lionel Messi on four occasions without conceding a single goal.

But where are the players that achieved that victory now? Of the team Rubin put out on that night, only Sergey Ryzhkov and Gökdeniz Karadeniz have remained with the club, while César Navas is now in his second spell at the club after 18 months playing for Rostov. Roman Sharonov is also back at the club post-retirement, having been appointed reserve team manager in the 17/18 season. Vitaly Kaleshin saw out his career with FC Krasnodar, before retiring at the end of the 16/17 season, Lasha Salukvadze left Rubin in 2010, and wandered around Russia, Azerbaijan and eventually landed back in his home country Georgian, playing now for Dinamo Tbilisi.

Cristian Ansaldi was a coveted asset after a number of good years at Rubin and was sold to Zenit in 2013, before going on to play for Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and currently Torino, on loan from parent side Inter. Christian Noboa is still plying his trade in Russia, currently playing for Zenit after spells with Dinamo Moscow and Rostov, where he revived his career. Sergey Semak also joined Zenit after playing for Rubin, and following his retirement, went into coaching, and is now the manager of RPL side FC Ufa.

The opening goalscorer Aleksandr Ryazantsev remained at Rubin for a long time, eventually leaving, yet again, for Zenit in 2014. However, unlike Semak, Ansaldi and Noboa, Ryazantsev never took his chance and has been dwindling during loan spells at Ural and Amkar. Alejandro Dominguez stayed at Rubin for just one more year, taking the opportunity to further his career at La Liga side Valencia, but after flopping there and at Rayo Vallecano, Domínguez found his footing at Olympiacos, playing there for four years, before rejoining Rayo for the 17/18 season.

As for the manager, Kurban Berdyev, he stayed with Rubin until 2013 before being sacked. He then took up the reins at FC Rostov, where he lead them to a stunning second-place finish, before taking them on a European campaign which saw them claim famous scalps against Anderlecht, Ajax and Bayern Munich. Following this season, Berdyev made the move back to Rubin for the 17/18 season, where he remains at the time of writing.

Author: David Sansun

Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.

Comments

  1. Thank you, David! Rubin will rise and will beat some top clubs again. And this time it will be for long.

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