Sbornaya – Dinamo Moscow: Another RFU Farce

The Russian National Team prior to the Confederations Cup game against New Zealand. Photo: Кирилл Венедиктов –

Unfortunately for fans of Russian Football and particularly the Russian National Team, that headline is not a typographical error. While incumbent World Champions Germany face off against the Czech Republic and Norway in two difficult and competitive World Cup Qualifying games, Sbornaya will face Dinamo Moscow at the Arena Khimki on 3 September.

Although Russia are playing, the tie has been officially denoted as a “Club Friendly”, not an international. Therefore, it is the only game that the Sbornaya squad have a chance of bonding and playing together for the remainder of 2017 – at the time of writing – aside from the Argentina friendly in early November. That is far from ideal, and discovering that only two players from the Confederations Cup squad are involved amidst a huge rotation is very worrying. But how just did this happen?

Well, this is not the first time. It was in actuality a regular occurrence for the Soviet National Team to play “club friendlies”, with 33 official games played between various club’s and differing forms of the National Team (be they the senior side, youth teams or Olympic squads) before the collapse. Konstantin Beskov even organised two unofficial ones behind closed doors against Spartak Moscow, as he was the manager of both. The World Cup Organising Committee and even more so the Russian Football Union (RFU) have once again proven themselves woefully inept and incompetent, again. At such a crucial period – less than a year to go before the World Cup begins – competitive friendlies are vital to any host nation’s chances of success. Both of these bodies have known about hosting the competition since Russia was awarded host status by the FIFA Executive Committee in December 2010, yet the team are forced to play a match against a mid-table domestic side missing their most potent attacking force, and likely numerous other first team stars away on international duty.

Of course, this will come as no surprise to anybody who follows Russian football, as the RFU and it’s head, Vitaly Mutko, have long been incompetent and controversy-laden. What particularly irks with this latest farce is not that it has merely happened, but just how embarrassing and utterly unnecessary the whole matter is. The RFU simply could not book a competent, national team to play against, citing some being busy playing qualifiers and others asking for money as a problem. This close to a World Cup, money should not be a problem for the host nation. It shouldn’t even be a consideration.

Cherchesov, while remaining coy in public, will surely be irate in private. Upon the announcement of the game he himself claimed;

The plan is to invite players who were not earlier invoked by command, or who have not been in recent collections.

The ex-Dinamo manager is essentially, on the face of the quote alone, allowing the public to know this squad will be an experiment. This is the case, as 12 of the original 28 players called up are debutant’s and newly-promoted FC Tosno currently have more players in the squad than last years champions, Spartak. Furthermore, since the original team announcement, Denis Cheryshev, Maksim Kannunikov, Ruslan Kambolov, Aleksandr Selikhov and Vyacheslav Podberezkin have all been dropped from the squad, with only the latter being one of the numerous uncapped players, leaving 48% of the final squad list of 23 possible debutants.

Of the final squad list above, only Mario Fernandes, Andrey Lunev, Ilya Kutepov, Daler Kuzyaev, and maybe Roman Neustädter and Kiril Panchenko have a realistic chance of getting into Cherchesov’s World Cup squad, so why name such a weakened and seemingly unnecessary team so close to the competition?

As aforementioned, however, this is not just tinkering from Cherchesov. On the one hand, he quite plainly is annoyed at the RFU and has such completely revamped his squad in what seems to be a protest, feeling it unnecessary to waste much of his first choice players on such inferior, club-based opposition. Only Kiril Panchenko would be able to danger much of the Sbornaya’s backline, and he is in the Russia squad – and if he does indeed play for Dinamo against Sbornaya, that’s his World Cup hopes all but ended barring dramatic circumstance. The other Dinamo attackers are simply not playing at a high international standard, and that is exactly what is required right now for Russia.

On the other hand, Cherchesov has effectively been forced into playing such an experimental squad because of the RFU’s sheer incompetence. He is attempting to save face for both the Union and the team itself by driving up fervour in lesser-known players, completely shifting the limelight away from the RFU’s monumental mistake. Experimentation can be good for a national side to increase both competition inside and outside the typical squad, but not less than 12 months before a World Cup. Certainly not less than 12 months before a World Cup in your own country.

Even a game against international minnows like Jamaica, Canada or Togo – who are all playing friendlies that week – would still provide a small test while also saving the RFU from embarrassment and allowing Cherchesov to field a strong team, one that can bond and carry out vital tactical work. The coach himself too, however, is not blameless from his role in this farce. One of the very few initial positives to emanate was the inclusion of three of the most promising players from Russia’s foreign legion; Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal), Konstantin Rausch ( FC Köln) and Vyacheslav Karavaev (Sparta Prague). However, Cherchesov has now dropped Cheryshev from the final 23, thus dampening many expectations that fans had to see the Villarreal man in a Sbornaya shirt for the first time since November 2015.

The majority of the blame must – as is nearly always the case in Rusia – lie with Vitaly Mutko, the head of the RFU. Mutko is a careerist politician who has proven his ineptitude time after time in the past and is somehow the man who has been chosen to lead Russian football to arguably the greatest sporting event in the nation since the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

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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