Confederations Cup Preview: Russia – New Zealand

Confederations Cup participating ountries

Participating countries for the 2017 Confederations Cup. Source: Wiki Commons/2nyte

On Saturday evening, Russia kick off the Confederations Cup, when they take on Oceanian champions New Zealand in the opening fixture at St. Petersburg Stadium. We have teamed up with Ola Bjerkevoll from FootballOceania.com for this preview.

Russia

By John Gorrod (@John_CRFC)

Russia’s Confederations Cup campaign kicks off against New Zealand in St Petersburg – and nothing but a win will suffice.

The tournament is being viewed as a chance for Sbornaya to banish the ghosts of the disastrous Euro 2016 showing and build momentum for next year’s home World Cup, which is just under a year away.

With a fresh look to the squad, there are opportunities for younger and less-experienced players to continue their fine form and nail down a starting spot in the national side. There is evidence to suggest that they will do just that.

Following an uninspiring 2-0 defeat to Ivory Coast in March, Russia have racked up an impressive set of results. A 3-3 draw against star-studded Belgium was followed by a resounding 3-0 win over Hungary. Last week, Sbornaya held Chile, who had Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez on display, to a 1-1 draw in Moscow.

While the form of both sides points to a Russian win, midfielder Aleksandr Samedov was careful not to get carried away. He said: “New Zealand are a powerful team with well-drilled players. There are no doubts that a difficult match awaits us.”

Key players

Igor Akinfeev

Captain fantastic and backbone of the national team for over a decade, Akinfeev has often failed to replicate his domestic form on the biggest stages for club and country. For all of his high-profile errors and unwanted attention for his record run without a Champions League clean sheet, Akinfeev has also recorded the most clean sheets for the national team. If Russia are to have success this summer and beyond, an in-form Akinfeev will be a key factor.

Denis Glushakov

Glushakov is the man who will make things tick in midfield and he comes into the Confederations Cup on the back of captaining Spartak Moscow to the Russian league title. Besides being the team’s driving force and dictating the tempo of the game, Glushakov seems to have rediscovered his goalscoring touch, with his eight goals for Spartak his best return for five seasons.

Fedor Smolov

A reported target for German side Borussia Dortmund, striker Fedor Smolov will be the man that Sbornaya fans rely on to find the back of the net. Since injury forced Zenit marksman Artem Dzyuba to withdraw from the squad, Smolov will carry the responsibility of firing the Russians to glory. The Krasnodar striker enjoyed a fantastic season in front of goal, netting 27 times in 35 appearances, and he said, “We are playing at home and want to try to win every game in front of our own fans.”

Opinion Corner

Former Russia manager Valery Gazzaev, “I am not prepared to discuss the prospects of the Russian national team until I have seen the games against Mexico and Portugal. With all due respect to New Zealand, you cannot judge the level of our guys by this game. The matches with the two other opponents in the group will, I’m sure, show the real level of today’s national side.”

President of Russia Vladimir Putin, “We hope that the team will play at their best in order to please our supporters. The latest games have shown that the team has potential.”

Predicted line-up

Akinfeev – Vasin, Kudryashov, Dzhikiya – Zhirkov, Golovin, Miranchuk, Glushakov, Samedov – Smolov, Bukharov

Match prediction

For Russia this truly is a must-win game. Sbornaya is however weakened by the absence of Alan Dzagoev, Mario Fernandes, Artem Dzyuba and Roman Zobnin, so this might be harder than it looks. I expect Russia to struggle, but nevertheless pull away with a narrow victory.

New Zealand

By Ola Bjerkevoll (@Olabje)

The Oceania side are coming into this tournament on the back of a shaky buildup. After confidently securing the expected play-off spot in the Oceania World Cup Qualifiers with two wins over Fiji, the All Whites have come down to earth with losses to Northern Ireland and Belarus in the last week and a half. The one positive from the pre-tournament friendlies was a win between the two international games against mid-table League of Ireland (tier two in Irish football) side Cabinteely, whom they beat 5-2.

Tactical approach:

Back home in Oceania, where they are the big boys in a rather small pond, the Kiwis like to keep possession and play out where possible. They usually try to utilize the width of the pitch with both wingbacks or wingers in a 3-5-2/5-3-2 variation bombing forward to get crosses in for Leeds United striker Chris Wood.

There is a big chance that coach Anthony Hudson will look to play a 5-3-2/5-3-1-1 to get a few more men behind the ball and look to hoof it long for Wood to take it down for Marco Rojas who has pace in abundance. Hudson might even revert to a good old 4-4-2 with Shane Smeltz replacing Marco Rojas as Wood’s strike partner to add even more muscle to the frontline.

Key players:

Stefan Marinovic

In a team expected to struggle the goalkeeper is perhaps the most important part in the machine and in Stefan Marinovic New Zealand have one very good keeper.  Marinovic plies his trade at German side SpVgg Unterhaching where he just won promotion to the 3. Liga and played 28 out of the 34 matches. A very good shot-stopper and at 191 centimetres he has good command of the box on set pieces.

Chris Wood

The Leeds United striker is the All Whites’ captain in the absence of Winston Reid who is recovering from a surgery after playing the last few games for West Ham with an injury. Wood became the Championship top scorer when he finished the season with a massive 27 goals in 44 appearances for Leeds, who missed out on a playoff spot due to terrible form in the run-in. The big Kiwi is exceptional at being in the right place at the right time to get the ball into the net and his strength and agility is something New Zealand should be able to make good use of.

Marco Rojas

The former Stuttgart man found little success in Europe and returned to Melbourne Victory before the season just gone. Here he has set the A-League alight and scored 12 goals and finished joint top of the assist rankings with 11. His blistering pace and dangerous right foot means he can cut inside and shoot should he play as a left winger or run through any defence should he be let loose up top. He is also one of the more creative players with the ball at his feet.

Predicted lineup:

Marinovic – Durante, Boxall, Smith – Colvey, Thomas, McGlinchey, Lewis, Wynne – Rojas – Wood

Match prediction

In an opener like this it is never easy to predict anything. Will either New Zealand or Russia be frightened by the occasion? If it’s Russia who find themselves caught like a deer in headlights then New Zealand may very well take all three points. If the game follows “normal proceedings” then this Russia team has the potential to outplay the Kiwis who will have to remain solid and structured at the back if they want to get anything from this. The feeling from back home in New Zealand is that this is the game to win, if there ever was one in this tournament.

Author: John Gorrod

I spent the 2015-16 academic year studying Russian at the Tver State University. One day, I visited the stadium of third-division Volga Tver and ended up helping the fans to paint the fences around the pitch. We became firm friends and they introduced me to the wonderful world of Russian football.

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