What Happened to Russia’s succesful 2008 Squad?

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The Russian players are celebrating after they beat Netherlands in Basel.

When you talk about the 2008 EURO tournament, most people will talk about the amazing Russian team, which reached the semifinals, where they lost to the later champions from Spain. This was the beginning of the Spanish world domination, but even though the Russians did not win the gold medals, they won the hearts of the football world. Names like Zhirkov, Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko suddenly became world famous, and several of the Russian players were on the short lists of Europe’s biggest clubs. Now, six and a half years after the tournament we can, unfortunately, conclude that Russia’s golden generation’s mark in the history books was much smaller than we all expected in the summer of 2008. In this article, I will take you through the rise and fall of Russia’s 2008 stars one by one. The number in the parentheses is the player’s age in 2008, and then the number of matches and goals during the tournament. 

Goalkeepers

Igor Akinfeev (22)– 5/0

Igor Akinfeev, who started all of Russia’s games during the tournament, has been a certain first choice for Russia since the EURO apart from a brief injury period, which saw him lose his spot for around a year. Since the tournament, he has won two championships and three domestic cup trophies with CSKA Moscow, but the move to a big European club that many expected never happened, due to unfortunate injuries and a high salary in Russia. Akinfeev is still the first choice for CSKA Moscow, and he is closing in on the record as the Russian and Soviet goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in history. In the spring of 2014, he surpassed the legendary Lev Yashin.

Vladimir Gabulov (24) – 0/0

Vladimir Gabulov did not get any playing time during the tournament, where he acted as back up for Akinfeev. Back in 2008, like today, Gabulov played for Dynamo Moscow, a club he left in 2011 when Suleyman Kerimov started throwing money after new players for his Anzhi club. Gabulov immediately established himself as Anzhi’s first choice, a position he kept until the club collapsed in August 2013, when he moved back to Dynamo.

Vyacheslav Malafeev (29) – 0/0

At 29 years, Malafeev was the most experienced goalkeeper in the squad. He had been Zenit St. Petersburg’s first choice since 2001 and he got his debut on the national team in 2003. Briefly before the EURO he was a part of Zenit’s UEFA Cup-winning team and he later won the European Super Cup. In 2010 and 2011/2012 he helped Zenit win the Russian championship, while he also won the Russian Cup. Malafeev lost his spot in Zenit’s goal to Yuri Lodygin last season, when he got injured. Since then, the now 35 year old keeper been the second choice, which is unlikely to change. Malafeev retired from the national team in 2012.

Igor Akinfeev with an acrobatic save against Henrik Larsson and Sweden.

Igor Akinfeev with an acrobatic save against Henrik Larsson and Sweden.

Defenders:

Vasili Berezutski – 2/0

Vasili Berezutski got his EURO debut, when he got the last three minutes on the field in Russia’s 1-0 victory against Greece in the second round of the group stage. Berezutski’s second appearance came when he started against Spain in the semifinal. Vasili Berezutski, just like his twin brother Aleksei and Igor Akinfeev, has been loyal to CSKA since the EURO and there are no signs of this changing for the defender, who turned 32 last summer. Berezutski has won two championships and three cup titles with CSKA since 2008. Unfortunately, Vasili Berezutski was injured during the 2012 EURO, but he got back and Fabio Capello appointed him captain before the 2014 World Cup.

Renat Yanbayev – 0/0

Lokomotiv’s defender never got to play a role during the tournament, despite the fact Guus Hiddink once called him the quickest player in the world. Since 2008 has Yanbayev won a Russian Premier League silver medal as a Zenit player in 2012/2013, where he played on loan, and a bronze medal with Lokomotiv last season.  The now 30 year old Yanbayev played his 12th and last national team game in November 2012, when Russia played a friendly against the USA.

Sergei Ignashevich – 4/0

Sergei Ignashevich did not play in the opening game against Spain in the group stage, but he got full playing time in Russia’s following four games. Ignashevich, who had 37 national team appearances and  was 28 years old entering the tournament, was one of the experienced leaders in the squad. He played at both the 2012 EURO and the 2014 World Cup, and has won two championships and three cup trophies together with his CSKA teammates Akinfeev and the Berezutskis. Ignashevich’s 104 appearances on the national team is only five less than Viktor Onopko, who currently holds the record. Ignashevich is still active and will most likely surpass Onopko soon.

Aleksei Berezutski – 0/0

The other Berezutski twin, Aleksei, did not make any apperances during the EURO. He has, like his brother, remained loyal to CSKA, where he in total has won five league titles and seven cup trophies. One of Aleksei’s biggest strengths has always been his versatility, which has often allowed his coaches to move him from his natural position in the central defense to the wings or even the midfield. Aleksei was called up to the 2012 EURO, but was not a part of the 2014 World Cup. Aleksei Berezutski is not a key player for CSKA Moscow, but his coach Leonid Slutsky appreciates his flexibility, and that is why he still has a role to play in the club.

Denis Kolodin – 4/0

Denis Kolodin, who played for Dynamo Moscow until moving to Volga Novgorod before last season, will especially be remembered for his great and powerful long shots, which made him feared in Russia and gave him some spectacular goals. Kolodin has however never won a major title. Two league bronze medals from 2004 and 2008 and a lost cup final from 2004 are his greatest achievements. Unfortunately, Kolodin struggled a lot with injuries after the 2008 tournament, which caused him to miss most of the following World Cup qualification, where he only played two games. He was later called up for the two first fixtures of the 2012 EURO qualification, but he had to refuse because of injuries. He has not played on the national team since August 2010. He was, however, a part of Russia’s 2018 World Cup bid, where he acted as ambassador.

Roman Shirokov – 1/0

Roman Shirokov had in 2008 just started what would turn out to be six successful years with Zenit. When Zenit lost two central defenders in Martin Skrtel to Liverpool and Nicolas Lombaerts to injury, Dick Advocaat decided to move Shirokov down, which turned out to be a wise decision. Shirokov started in Zenit’s central defense in the UEFA Cup finale against Glasgow Rangers in 2008, and he later helped the club win the European Super Cup, two league titles and a cup title. After 2008, the late bloomer Shirokov developed into Russia’s finest midfielder, which his two awards as Russia’s best player from 2012 and 2013 prove. Shirokov was a part of the 2012 EURO squad, and in 2013 Fabio Capello chose him as his new captain. Unfortunately for Shirokov he got injured before the World Cup in Brazil, and he missed it. In the winter of 2014, he had a falling out with Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti, who sent him away on loan to FC Krasnodar. In the summer of 2014, he signed with Zenit’s archrivals Spartak Moscow on a free transfer. After six months with Spartak, Shirokov recently signed another loan deal with FC Krasnodar after he failed to impress Spartak’s coach Murat Yakin.

Yuri Zhirkov – 5/0

Yuri Zhirkov was one of the great revelations on Russia’s team, which earned him a well-deserved spot on the Team of the Tournament and the award as Russia’s best footballer in 2008. The former winger was great on the left back where his raids always threatened the opposition. In July 2009, Chelsea paid around £18 million for him, when the club’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich demanded Russian players in the squad. Before signing with Chelsea, Zhirkov added yet another cup title to his already impressive trophy cabinet. Zhirkov signed a four year contract with the London club, and things looked good. Zhirkov’s stint at Chelsea was unfortunately characterized by injuries, which is why he only managed to play 29 Premier League matches in two seasons. He did however help Chelsea win the Premier League, the FA Cup and the Community Shield during his time at the club before he left and moved to Anzhi, where he played two seasons. His last match for Anzhi was a cup finale against his former club CSKA that was lost. Afterwards, he moved to Dynamo Moscow like several of his teammates. Zhirkov participated in both the 2012 EURO and 2014 World Cup, and is still an important part of Capello’s national team.

Aleksandr Anyukov – 5/0

The great Zenit fullback Anyukov played full time in all of Russia’s five EURO games. He was furthermore a part of the Zenit team, which won the UEFA Cup briefly before the tournament, while he also helped Zenit beat Manchester United in the European Super Cup at the beginning of the 2008/2009 season. Since the EURO, he has won one championship with Zenit as well as a cup trophy. Anyukov has long been a certain first choice at Zenit and Russia’s right back, but last season he lost his spot to the younger Igor Smolnikov at both Zenit and the national team. Anyukov was a part of the 2012 EURO squad, but he was not included in the World Cup squad.

Anyukov tackling Netherlands Wesley Sneijder.

Anyukov tackling Netherlands Wesley Sneijder.

Midfielders:

Dmitri Torbinski – 3/1

Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Torbinski scored Russia’s crucial 2-1 goal against Netherlands in the quarterfinal’s 112th minute. Torbinski entered the game in the 81st minute, when he replaced Ivan Saenko on the midfield, which turned out to be a wise move by Hiddink. Torbinski was also forced to make his impact from the bench in the opening game against Spain, while he got his only start in the tournament in the victory against Greece. In 2010, he was close to moving to Spanish Real Zaragoza, but he chose to stay with Lokomotiv instead, where he played until the summer of 2013, when he signed a two year contract with Rubin Kazan. Torbinski failed to make an impact at Rubin, and he only played 19 games last season. He moved to Rostov before this season, where he quickly established himself as a regular starter. Despite only being 30 years old, Torbinski has not played on the national team since September 2011.

The frontpage of Sovjetski Sport after Russia's quarterfinal victory against Netherlands.

The frontpage of Sovjetski Sport after Russia’s quarterfinal victory against Netherlands.

Ivan Saenko – 4/0

Saenko did not play in the opening match against Spain, but was sent on the pitch from the bench in the rest of the group games against Greece and Sweden, while he started in both the play off matches against Netherlands and Spain. Saenko moved to German side Karlsruhe in 2002 at the age of 19, before moving to Nürnberg in 2005, where he played during the tournament in Switzerland and Austria. Afterwards, Spartak Moscow bought him for around €3 million and they awarded him with a four year contract. Before signing with Spartak, Saenko had been relegated with Nürnberg, whom he refused to help gain promotion afterwards. During his time in Germany he won the cup in 2007. Saenko called the move to Spartak a childhood dream come true, but eventually it grew into a nightmare. In July 2009, he received treatment for a knee injury, but the doctors made a mistake and his ligament was destroyed, which meant his season ended after only 13 games. Saenko returned to the training field in January 2010, but new problems quickly emerged. In August, Spartak signed a lot of new players, which made Saenko redundant and Spartak tried to sell him. During this period, rumors about Saenko getting drunk during a training camp in Estonia emerged, and in January 2011 Spartak terminated his contract. When Saenko could not find a club that lived up to his expectations he retired from football at the age of 28.

Sergei Semak – 5/0

Sergei Semak was Russia’s captain during the EURO and he played 90 minutes in all of the five matches. In 2008 Semak played for Rubin Kazan, whom he helped win back-to-back championships in 2008 and 2009. He was, with his 32 years, the oldest player in Russia’s squad and therefore close to ending a long and impressive career, in which he won league titles with CSKA Moscow, Rubin Kazan and Zenit and a cup trophy with Paris Saint-Germain. Even though Semak was already quite old in 2008, he still managed to win four Russian championships afterwards, two with Rubin and two with Zenit before he retired at the age of 37 in 2013. After he retired, Semak started on his coaching education and he became a part of Zenit’s staff. He was appointed interim head coach for two matches after Zenit sacked Luciano Spalletti in the spring of 2014. He faced CSKA in his debut, and both clubs’ fans applauded their old midfielder. Semak played his last national team game in March 2010, when Russia faced Hungary in a friendly.

Oleg Ivanov – 0/0

The 21 year old Oleg Ivanov was called up when Zenit’s star striker Pavel Pogrebnyak had to cancel his participation in the tournament due to an injury. Ivanov, who played for Krylya Sovetov, had never played on the national team before, and he did not get any time on the pitch during the tournament. In 2011 he moved to Rostov, and he started to look like yet another wasted Russian talent. Ivanov’s stint with Rostov did not follow the plan, and along the way he had to take them to court because of missing salary payments. Afterwards, he moved to Terek Grozny, where he again began to prove why he was a part of the 2008 squad. During the 2013/2014 season, Ivanov proved himself as one of the best midfielders in Russia, and several media reported that he turned down both Zenit and CSKA to stay with Terek. His good form made Capello call him up to the national team, but Ivanov was not awarded with time on the field. Oleg Ivanov is 28 today and he still has not got his debut on Russia’s national team, but it is bound to happen soon, if he keeps ups his good form.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov – 5/0

The 23 year old Diniyar Bilyaletdinov was in 2008 one of the brightest stars in Russian football. Bilyaletdinov got his breakthrough for Lokomotiv Moscow in 2004, when at the age of 19 he won the award as the best young player in Russia as well as the league title. Bilyaletdinov stayed with Lokomotiv until the summer of 2009, when he moved to Everton for around €9 million, which made him Everton’s third most expensive player all time. Bilyaletdinov scored a beautiful goal against Manchester United in his first season at the club, and this goal was later selected as the club’s best goal that year. Unfortunately for Bilyaletdinov, his good luck quickly disappeared and his minutes on the pitch became fewer and fewer, which led him to return to Russia and Spartak Moscow in January 2012, when Everton sold him for around €6.5 million. He later explained his lack of success at Everton with the team’s lack of creativity and use of wrong tactics. Bilyaletdinov’s move to Spartak was not a much bigger success than his time at Everton and in the winter of 2014 he moved to Anzhi on loan, when they fought for survival in the Russian Premier League. Spartak had no use for Bilyaletdinov when he returned, and he now plays on loan at Torpedo Moscow. Bilyaletdinov turns 30 in February, but he looks like a player who is done at the highest level.

Konstantin Zyryanov – 5/1

The brilliant midfielder Konstantin Zyryanov played a huge part in Russia’s successful tournament, and his great performances earned him a spot on the Team of the Tournament. Zyryanov, who scored against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup semifinal and Rangers in the final, retired from the highest level after last season, but before that he helped Zenit win another two championships: a European Super Cup and a cup trophy. The 37 year old Zyryanov now plays on Zenit’s second team, where he is also a member of the staff.

Igor Semshov – 5/0

Dynamo Moscow’s midfielder Igor Semshov was, together with Semak and Zyryanov, a part of the experienced trio in the middle, and he started all of Russia’s five games. After the 2008 season he left Dynamo because of contract disputes and then joined Zenit. Semshov only stayed one season in St. Petersburg before returning to Dynamo Moscow in 2009, where he played until the end of 2012/2013 season. In the summer of 2013, he joined Krylya Sovetov with whom he was relegated at the end of the season. Semshov is today 36 years old and he is still without a club. Semshov played 57 games for Russia, and he was also a part of the 2012 EURO squad.

Vladimir Bystrov – 2/0

The quick winger Bystrov had to settle with only two games during the tournament, despite the fact he played a good qualification. Bystrov came on from the bench in the opening match against Spain and in the victory against Sweden. In 2009, Bystrov left Spartak, whom he had represented since 2005, and returned to his beloved Zenit for a transfer fee around €9 million. Zenit gave Bystrov a five year contract and made him one of the highest paid players in the squad. Bystrov got a good start with Zenit, but he never quite managed to get back to his old level, and he spent his last six months on loan at Anzhi. Before the 2014/2015 season he signed a three year contract with FC Krasnodar. Bystrov failed to impress Dick Advocaat enough to be included in the 2012 EURO squad and later Fabio Capello also cut him from the 2014 World Cup squad.

Strikers:

Roman Adamov – 1/0

Rubin Kazan striker Roman Adamov only got 20 minutes on the pitch, but he left a mark that will never be forgotten. Adamov got the last 20 minutes against Spain in the opening match, when Russia was behind 2-0, and his performance was so terrible it almost made him legendary. To this day, Russians still fear to ‘select a new Adamov’. Adamov, who was joint top scorer in the Russian Premier League in the 2007 season, won one championship with Rubin Kazan during his only season with the club. In this season he scored three goals in 26 matches, and he was later loaned out to Krylya Sovetov and Rostov without much success. In the 2012/2013 season he moved to Czech side Viktoria Plzen, where he was a part of the team that won the Czech league. Afterwards he returned to Russia, where he played six month for an amateur club, which was owned by a chicken farm in the Rostov region. Adamov currently represents FC Sibir Novosibirsk in the Russian 2nd tier without much success. He has played 12 matches so far without scoring, and he received a red card in his debut last summer.

A piece of Adamov’s skills can be seen in this video: https://vk.com/video98340575_163847458?z=video98340575_163847458%2Falbum98340575

Andrei Arshavin – 3/2

Andrey Arshavin was suspended in Russia’s first two group matches, but returned to the last one against Sweden, where he scored to make it 2-0. Arshavin also scored in the quarterfinal against Netherlands, when he closed the game with his goal to 3-1. He stayed on the pitch full time in all the three games he played and proved why Hiddink had called him up even though he was suspended. In January 2009, Arshavin became Arsenal’s most expensive signing ever, and in glimpses he showed his ingenuity but never on a regular basis. In one match, Arshavin scored four goals against Liverpool, but he was also often criticized for being overweight and out of shape. In 2012, Arshavin moved back to Zenit on loan to gain regular playing time before the 2012 EURO, where he acted as captain. Before last season Arshavin finally moved back to Zenit permanently, when he signed a two year deal. So far Zenit’s offensive competition has been too much to handle for ‘Sasha’ and he spends most of his time on the bench, which is also why he was not even close to being a part of Capello’s World Cup squad. Arshavin is currently considering whether he should end his career too early or join a smaller club on loan to get playing time.

Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko both tried their luck in the English Premier League without much succes.

Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko both tried their luck in the English Premier League without much succes.

Roman Pavlyuchenko – 5/3

Roman Pavlyuchenko moved to the English Premier League and Tottenham Hotspur shortly after the EURO for £13.7 million. Most Tottenham fans will probably remember Pavlyuchenko for his many missed chances, and at the beginning of the 2009/2010 season he found himself demoted to Harry Redknapp’s fourth choice. This made Pavlyuchenko publicly criticize Tottenham for not letting him leave the club, and he had to wait until the beginning of 2012 for his wish to come through, when Lokomotiv Moscow paid £8 million for him. Just like in Arshavin’s case, there was too long between Pavlyuchenko’s highs. After he returned, he told Sport-Express that he had demanded a transfer away from Tottenham or else he would refuse to leave later and simply pick up his check for the last 18 months of this contract. Pavlyuchenko’s move back to Russia secured him a spot in the 2012 EURO, where he will be remembered for a couple of awful misses. Pavlyuchenko quickly turned out to be yet another Russian star who returned home as a failure, and he lost his spot in Lokomotiv’s attack to the Senegalese Dame N’Doye. The now 33 year old Pavlyuchenko’s golden contract with Lokomotiv runs out after this season. He retired from the national team in 2013.

Dmitri Sychev – 3/0

Dmitri Sychev, who was selected to play for Russia during the 2002 World Cup, is the youngest ever Russian or Soviet footballer to ever appear in a World Cup at just 18 years and 222 days. Since 2004, Sychev has been on contract with Lokomotiv Moscow, but in 2012/2013 Croat coach Slaven Bilic benched him, and in March 2013 he moved to Dynamo Minsk on loan, while Lokomotiv still paid his salary of about €2 million a year. Even though Bilic left Lokomotiv, Sychev was sent on loan to Volga Novgorod last season, without much luck. Sychev is now back at Lokomotiv, where he has been demoted to the second team, because he simply is not good enough to play on the first team anymore. In the summer there were rumors about ‘The Russian Michael Owen’ retiring, but Sychev denied these and said he is still looking for a new club. He is only 31 today, but Sychev have been washed up for a while now.

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Follow Toke Theilade on Twitter: @TokeTheilade

Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and most importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

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