Round Table: National Team Update

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Andy (@AndyShenk) – Moscow based writer and Russian language translator, Andy supports Anzhi

Pavel (@russianpotter) – Nizhny Novgorod-based young journalist and Spartak supporter, Volga attendee

Rob (@RobDillonMTA) – Journalist who specializes in Russian football, Editor of More Than Arshavin

John (@JohnSager) – Russian Football follower, Zenit supporter, California resident

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1) What did we learn from the Portugal game?1961223_w2

PAVEL:   Nothing special. Just that Capello’s team still can lose and the team level hasn’t hugely improved (although it did improve somewhat).

ANDY:   Fabio Capello knew what he was doing by calling up Alexey Kozlov. The Kuban defender had to battle with Cristiano Ronaldo in his national team debut, and did a solid job. That should give Kozlov a huge boost of confidence, especially with Kuban beginning play in the Europa League in just a few months.

Hopefully Capello continues to bring in players like Kozlov and Smolov over the rest of the qualifying campaign to give Russia some much-needed fresh blood, even if the core of the team doesn’t change.

ROB:   Not all that much – Capello can set up a solid team that’s hard to break down, and Russia have the attacking ability to cause teams problems, but against the top sides they’re always going to be a step behind purely due to the talent gap. What is a concern is that Portugal are on the brink of, or already have, fallen out of that top bracket and so are a side that could be being beaten.

JOHN:  Portugal were an excellent team at the Euros, and Russia went away and put in a good performance. Portugal had a must win situation, and Russia matched them. Even though a draw would be ideal, I think it was a solid performance, and in that regards it was a step forward for Russia. I still feel there is some work to do in attack, but Russia has some time to take those steps forward before the 2014 World Cup. I also liked seeing Bystrov back in the picture and looking dangerous, as he offers a direct element that can be lacking for the national team. Russia also did well to minimalize Ronaldo’s threat and this reflects are a more solid defensive outlook.

2) What would you have done differently than Capello against Portugal?  181234hp2

PAVEL:   I would change the attacking line. It’s so funny that there were two strikers this match – one hasn’t scored since November and another scored stunning 6 goals. Not in the season. In his entire career. That was hopeless. It could be better if someone else (maybe someone less obvious) would have picked by Capello.

ROB:   Not a great deal except make a couple of changes differently. If you’re going to start with an attack-minded midfielder it makes sense to have Dzagoev on the field rather than Faizulin, and I’d have liked to see Nababkin get a run-out in place of Anyukov. Generally though, a point would have been an excellent result, but going a goal down so early made it difficult. It’s a disappointing result, but not one that wasn’t expected.

ANDY:   I’m actually fine with Capello not playing Dzagoev, given that he’s got two U21 matches in Israel and just came off an exhausting Russian Cup final. I think Dzagoev will be back in the starting XI, or at least on the pitch, very soon, and a key member of Capello’s WC squad.

I don’t have any real concerns with his tactics or squad. If Russia could have played with more aggression in the early going, that would have been helpful, but I doubt that’s his fault. The goal that was conceded was clearly not his fault and Russia played extremely well, I would say, apart from that lapse. If there’s anything I want Capello to do in the next 12 months, it’s continue to build Russia’s confidence. I was happy to read that he praised the team after the game. The national team has been disparaged plenty enough. In my opinion, Capello is doing an excellent job by combining tight discipline at camps and on the pitch with a very positive outlook on the team’s potential.

ROB:   Not a great deal except make a couple of changes differently. If you’re going to start with an attack-minded midfielder it makes sense to have Dzagoev on the field rather than Faizulin, and I’d have liked to see Nababkin get a run-out in place of Anyukov. Generally though, a point would have been an excellent result, but going a goal down so early made it difficult. It’s a disappointing result, but not one that wasn’t expected.

JOHN:  I would not have started Fayzulin.  I don’t think he belongs at that level, and I would have injected some youth with a chance to develop for the next tournament.

3)  With Kerzhakov’s generation growing old, what is Russia’s long-term solution at forward?Alexander+Kerzhakov+Denmark+v+Russia+International+l10PZ9nnulSl

PAVEL:   It’s a difficult question. I think there’s no proper strikers of national level in Russia now. It could become a big problem later. Probably, Smolov if he’s ever going to score goals often. Panyukov (Dinamo), Kanunnikov (Amkar), probably Mitrishev (Terek), if he gets more practice. They all, however, need the time.

ANDY:   I don’t know. I don’t think Kokorin is, because I’m not sure the pressure up front would be very healthy at his age. Plus, it’s not really his favorite position, as he favors the left flank a bit more on the attack.

Otherwise, there’s Smolov (who also prefers to play more on the wing), Dzyuba, Kanunnikov, Panyukov, etc. I would guess that Russia will either play Kokorin out of position or go back and forth between Smolov, Dzyuba and perhaps others until someone wins the job. Barring a major step forward from someone soon it could be 2-3 years before there’s someone ready to take over for Kerzhakov consistently.

ROB:   It’s hard to look past Kokorin for the starting spot up front for the future, I just hope he doesn’t get shunted onto the wing too often. Beyond him you’re looking at Fedor Smolov, who doesn’t have all that much experience at the top level and is a bit of a blunt instrument, and after that the talent pool is a little thin. There was a time when Maksim Kanunnikov looked like the answer but he’s settled into mediocrity at Amkar, and the only Russian remotely close to the top of the goal charts is 31-year-old Ruslan Mukhametshin. What’s probably worth doing is looking through the Spartak youth squads – they tend to run rampant at underage level, and the process of transferring those skills upwards needs to start early than it does. For an outside bet, Mordovia’s Kirill Panchenko has trialled at CSKA and should leave the relegated club, but in general the prospects for the next Russian goal machine aren’t great.

JOHN:  I was just thinking the other day, that I remember a few years back, when he was at his peak for Rubin, I was calling for Bukharov to be the answer at forward. That was a mistake. It seems the pack of Kerzhakov, Pogrebnyak, and Pavlyuchenko is finished. The possibility of Welliton being naturalized is ancient history. It is time for the new generation to fill in.  Just pick a name and give them a run! I think only one forward will play at a time, so Kokorin, Smolov- maybe even former Zenit and current Amkar youngster Maksim Kanunnikov will be that guy.  I think someone will step up.

4)  Between now and the 2018 World Cup, what national team results would you consider a success?  _63468151_016219209-1

PAVEL:   World Cup or Euro play-offs. I don’t think that goals will radically change in 2018.

ANDY:  I think that qualifying for Brazil 2014 and France 2016 is success enough in the short term. Long-term goals need to be set, however, if Russia want to develop into a football power. Given the country’s population, resources and the popularity of football, there’s no reason Russia can’t consistently be a top-6 European side and top-12 globally, with regular appearances in the knockout rounds at the World Cup and Euro. For Russia 2018, I think the minimum goal is developing a side that’s favored to reach the quarterfinals and possibly progress even further.

ROB:   Qualification for 2014 is paramount, and with the group still in Capello’s hands you’d expect them to get there automatically. Beyond that, they’ll want to get out of the groups in Brazil and put in a much better showing at France 2016 than they managed in Poland and Ukraine – by then the bulk of the World Cup squad should be evident, and it’ll be a crucial stepping stone on the way. Outside of the seniors, the u21s have to improve if they’re to supply the full squad with any talent – the younger age groups may be enjoying success, but the u21s have been largely abysmal in Israel and the next generation needs to do more.

JOHN:  I think qualifying from their group directly to the 2014 World Cup is first and a must.  Russia cannot miss another straight World Cup. Qualifying from their group from a first place finish would avoid the pressure (that Russia does not thrive under) of a play-off and the RNT can set up for Brazil. The schedule is favorable with two games against Luxembourg, away to Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland, and Israel at home.

I’m not sure exactly what the new Euro format will be in 2016, but obviously qualifying and advancing past the group stages would be the minimum of success. Also, Russia must play competitively in their friendlies that will lead up to the 2018 World Cup. I also think a good home showing in the Confederations Cup in 2017 would do wonders confidence against some sure to be top level teams.

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5)  Which player, 24 or younger, is next to earn regular playing time alongside Kokorin and Dzagoev?

PAVEL:   Schennikov or Cheryshev. Those guys have lots of potential.

ANDY:   He’s still 24, so I’ll go with Artem Dzyuba. I’m not sure he’ll develop into a national team regular for the next decade, but I think he’s going to get some opportunities in the next few years as long as he has success with Spartak. He probably would have come on for Kerzhakov, instead of Smolov, against Portugal, if not for a recent injury and he’s Capello’s best back-up at forward right now. The other top candidates for a spot on the squad, I think, are Oleg Shatov and Arseniy Logashov.

ROB:   Georgi Shchennikov will have a full back berth before too young, and Arseny Logashov has shown plenty of promise if a second spot frees up, although Anzhi’s transfer policy may scupper his chances. Further forward my money would be on Oleg Shatov in midfield – although he has Dzagoev as competition, his versatility will play into his hands – and Denis Cheryshev, providing he can escape Real Madrid’s reserve squad and find a club where he’ll play regularly in the first team. A couple more prospects than a year or so ago, but it still doesn’t make for a world-beating team to win the World Cup on home soil.

JOHN:  If Cheryshev gets regular playing time at a decent Serie A squad, as has been rumored, he will no doubt be in the national team picture.

Russia’s biggest issue, however, is at center back. There is a shortage of youngsters developing at the international level, and we can’t see the CSKA brothers playing in 2018. Someone has to step up in terms of the CB position.

Author: John Sager

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