International Preview: Russia – Argentina

We are finally here, and I don’t know about you but with the newly refurbished Luzhniki Stadium at long last finally open, it seems like the excitement for the World Cup is full steam ahead. As such, Russia’s International Friendlies take a real turn during this break, with two daunting opponents in Argentina and Spain, who have both qualified for the 2018 World Cup already. If Russia is to progress beyond the Group Stages of the tournament, they’ll likely face teams of this calibre later in the tournament (I know, a big IF). First off, it’s Russia – Argentina as aforementioned at the Luzhniki Stadium featuring Lionel Messi.

The two sides meet for the first time since 2009, as Argentina an out 3-2 winners. Igor Akinfeev started in goal, and Alan Dzagoev was introduced late in the second half.

Stanislav Cherchesov, in his pre-match press conference, addressed Argentina’s huge advantage in terms of quality; ‘In each position, there is a star, but we do not think strongly about it. There will be no fear’. Cherchesov, of course, continued, saying; ‘everything goes its own way – each team has its own strengths and weaknesses. We did not do anything special. All in working order. It is clear that the new stadium, the people will be many. But the better’.


Tactical Approach

As usual, Russia will lineup in their customary 3-5-2 formation, the most utilised tactic in the RFPL this season. They are willing to surrender possession, play on the counter and use their physicality to their advantage at set pieces. Russia does not necessarily have one particular “style”, but simply play to their strengths, with both a settled approach and lineup, with much of their attacks centred around the Alan Dzagoev – Aleksandr Golovin axis in midfield. The recent addition of the supremely talented Mário Fernandes will undoubtedly benefit the side, who will have a genuine attacking threat and solid defensive performer on the right-hand side.

Sbornaya right now has an optimistic aura surrounding it for the first time in a long while, thanks to a fresher, younger squad, players playing in peak condition, ever-improving results and a healthy domestic league. This, coinciding with the countdown to 2018 has rejuvenated spirits surrounding the national side. He has experimented recently, but month-on-month his squad is slowly coming together and has just three players over the age of 30 – including two goalkeepers. It contains genuine quality throughout the spine and has formed an identity in how to perform.

Argentina lineup in a 3-4-3 which becomes a very fluid 2-3-5 in attack, with Lionel Messi granted the freedom of both movement and the ball. He is Jorge Sampaoli’s attacking trequartista, and is the fulcrum of every attack. It will be between the lines of the Russian defence and midfield in which the game will be won and lost. In attack, Russia’s own counter-attacking style will thrive against an Argentinian side which both pressures very high up the pitch and holds a very high line. Russia will look to counter out wide through their pacey wing-backs and creative midfield including any of the creative talents such as Dzagoev, Aleksandr Golovin, Aleksei Miranchuk or Daler Kuzyaev.


Team News

Cherchesov rotated the pack last time out, however, now it is the time for his full strength side. As expected, Roman Zobnin misses out on the match and according to Cherschesov, was called up to the squad for tactical lessons alone. Daler Kuzyaev faced a late fitness due to a shoulder injury, but trained yesterday and is expected to play some part. Aside from this, Cherchesov can call upon a full clean bill of health.


Key Players

Fedor Smolov – The man of the moment in Russia, as is usually the case. He is on fire in both the league and national team, with five in his last ten for Russia and sits alongside Aleksandr Kokorin at the top of the RFPL scoring charts with eight goals in just eleven games this season, including four in his last two. His overall scoring record of nine in 26 appearances for Sbornaya is great, but will only get better such is the trajectory of his form over the last two years. He may be paired with either Aleksandr Kokorin or Aleksei Mircanchuk up top, and either will be a good compliment to his ability to play on the shoulder and keen reading of the game. Both would prefer to drop deep, allowing Smolov in behind the high Argentinian back line.

Igor Akinfeev – Captain, leader, record holder, yet error-stricken. This explanation could be a microcosm of Akinfeev’s international career. He is a supremely talented goalkeeper but haunted by numerous mistakes at international tournaments and high-profile matches. Akinfeev, however, is by far Russia’s most talented goalkeeper and will be vital in keeping out a likewise supremely talented Argentinian frontline.

Russia’s Midfield Three – Most likely to be Denis Glushakov in the defensive role, with Dzagoev and Golovin ahead of him. These three must be effective in all transitions, from defending deep and covering the numerous intelligent runs from Argentina midfielders to fashioning chances for the front two. Either Daler Kuzyaev or Aleksandr Erokhin may play in the deepest role to keep Messi quiet but I’d personally go with the experienced Glushakov. Whoever is invovled, they must be on the top of their game.


Predicted Lineup

3-5-2: Igor Akinfeev – Georgi Dzhikiya, Viktor Vasin, Fedor Kudryashov – Mário Fernandes, Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Glushakov, Alan Dzagoev, Konstantin Rausch – Aleksandr Kokorin, Fedor Smolov.



No doubt about it, this will be a difficult game for Sbornaya. However, if the side can keep Messi quiet it has been proven this Argentina team find it difficult to score. They essentially rely entirely on him being able to drop deep and play his natural game, not a bad tactic when he’s arguably the best player to ever play the game. But Russia’s strengths to fit naturally to the Argentinian weaknesses; ability to counter, physicality and deep defensive line. In their World Cup Qualification group, Argentina picked up just five points from six games against Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, proving that a strong, deep defensive shape can hinder their talented attacking line.

I just think this may be one game too far for this young Russian side who are unbeaten in their last five, scoring twelve goals in the process. However, a simple inability to keep clean sheets may hinder their chances.

Russia 1-2 Argentina

Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.

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