International Preview: Russia – Iran

Kazan Arena viewed from a distance. Photo: Andrew Wiese/RFN

Friendly International – Kazan Arena, Kazan

After the mess that was September’s hybrid friendly with Dinamo Moscow, this week sees Russia up their World Cup preparations with two home clashes with fellow guaranteed participants South Korea and Iran. After relatively easily dispatching South Korea 4-2 on Saturday, Sbornaya now faces Iran rejuvenated from Stanislav Cherchesov’s policy of experimentation.


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 to superior teams, 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.

Some may expect Cherchesov to rotate his squad in order to give his fringe players a chance, as opportunities continue to run out and time ticks down toward the World Cup proper.  On the other hand, Cherchesov may utilise a stronger lineup in order to give his team a chance to gel against opposition at a similar level to those ending up in Russia’s World Cup group. He must decide which road to take, and in general, he has generally steered the national team down the correct path.

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 becoming double digits has rejuvenated spirits surrounding the national side. He has experimented recently, but month-on-month his squad is slowly coming together and has just two players over the age of thirty, contains genuine quality throughout the spine and has formed an identity in how to perform.


Team News

Anton Miranchuk and Daler Kuzyaev made their debuts in the South Korea game from the start, while Konstantin Rausch, Mário Fernandes and Anton Zabolotniy all appeared off the bench to likewise make their respective debuts for the national team. Fernandes is now completely naturalised to play for Russia despite being born lived in Brazil for much of his life, while Soviet-born but dual Russian-German citizen Rausch has accepted the call to play for Russia.

Truth be told, Anton Miranchuk generally flattered to deceive while Kuzyaev had a strong game playing the deepest of a midfield three. The latter may start, as he continues to improve his blossoming reputation since moving from Akhmat Grozny to Zenit St Petersburg in the summer. If Cherchesov does make changes,  Andrey Lunyov, Ilya Kutepov, Roman Neustädter, Evgeni Chernov, Rausch, Fernandes, and Aleksei Miranchuk may start – all have been in and out of Cherchesov’s squads, and thus, may be able given an opportunity to start.


Key Players

Aleksandr Kokorin – Once Russia’s boy wonder, Kokorin is not just finally living up to his young promise, but exceeding it. The Belgorod-born striker has had a direct hand in eighteen goals from eighteen games for Zenit this season (fifteen goals and three assists). He hasn’t, however, scored for the national team since June 2016, and will be desperate to get on the scoreline, however, the current Aleksandr Kokorin is a much different man to the one who was ostracised for partying in the wake of Russia’s embarrassing Euro 2016 exit. Alongside with Fyodor Smolov – if he plays – Kokorin will be one half of the most dynamic, and on-form strikeforce Sbornaya has amassed since Euro 2008.

READ MORE: Aleksandr Kokorin’s Reformed Character

Fyodor Smolov – Smolov is on the top of his game right now, and has been the most dangerous frontman in Russia for two years now thanks to his effective pace, intelligent movement, underrated strength and natural instinct for goal. Alongside Kokorin, the pair forms a formidable partnership on current form for any defence and compliment each other nicely. Smolov is an intelligent, pacey poacher meanwhile Kokorin – this season – has performed a role as a complete forward, both finishing off moves superbly and effectively bringing those around him into play. Smolov is on top form right now with four goals and one assist in his last five games for Krasnodar, as well as scoring three in his last six for the national team.

Georgi Dzhikiya – The Moscow-born of Georgian ancestry has been an ever-present since the stat of the Confederations’ Cup. His form was one of few high points to come out of the tournament and hasn’t ever looked back. Although Spartak’s troubles have tended to be defensively this season, Dzhikiya has been their shining light. His positioning, awareness, and anticipation are his strongest assets, as well as holding the prerequisite physical assets to thrive. However, above all,  his ability in possession has definitely eased the transition of the retirement of the CSKA regulars in defence. Since making his debut in June, Dzhikiya is a firm favourite and one position that is nailed down for a starting spot next year.


Predicted Lineup

3-5-2: Akinfeev – Kutepov, Neustädter, Dzhikiya – Fernandes, Kuzyaev, Ozdoev, Al. Miranchuk, Rausch – Kokorin, Smolov


Match Prediction

Iran is an imposing outfit, who romped to qualification unbeaten, conceding merely two goals in the process. Their coach, Carlos Queiroz has just been nominated for best international coach of the year and their team is led by star-man, and Rubin Kazan forward, Sardar Azmoun. Milan Mohammadi and Saed Ezzatolahi also play for Iran regularly and are likewise based in Russia. However, at home, with the current form of Russia’s strikers, I’d expect a closely fought home victory.

Russia 2-1 Iran

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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