The UEFA European Football Championship started on Friday, June 11. The Russian national team kicked off in St. Petersburg against a powerful Belgian team. Last week, our team had two test matches. On June 1, they tied the game against Poland. On June 5, they defeated Bulgaria 1-0 in Moscow.
"Before the 2018 World Cup, the Russian national team played much worse than it does now," FC Akhmat Grozny coach Andrey Talayev told Match TV.
Three years ago, Stanislav Cherchesov's team was constantly criticized. Now, the attitude to the players is better.
In the first half of the match in Wroclaw, the Russians showed decent physical performance. They took control of the ball and reacted appropriately after they conceded a goal. In that episode, right back Karavaev hesitated and ruined an offside trap. Fifteen minutes later, he made amends and leveled the score, which remained unchanged until the final whistle.
The starting lineup of the Russian team: Shunin (goalkeeper), Miranchuk, Kuzyayev, Zobnin, Ozdoyev (half backs), Kudryashov, Dzhikiya, Semenov, Karavayev (defenders), and Golovin and team captain Dzyuba (centre forwards).
Substitutions after the break broke the harmony of action, which was not surprising. Team leader and Europe's strongest forward Lewandowski and goalkeeper Szczęsny did not play for the Poles.
The next day, Cherchesov announced the championship lineup which did not include young fullback Evgeniev and goalkeeper Lunev. The coach admitted that Shunin would be the first choice. He is criticized for his imperfect footwork though it is not such a big problem. In this regard, Cherchesov himself was far from perfect.
In the match against the Bulgarian team which is going through a difficult time, Cherchesov made changes to the starting lineup. Zhirkov, a Euro 2008 bronze medalist veteran played on the left flank of the defense, while speedy Ionov replaced Miranchuk on the right flank. The appearance of career half back Barinov as midfielder became the biggest surprise. He played more effectively than Djikiya. His passes from the line of attack were accurate, unlike those of the full-backs who made errors.
Alas, Kudryashov's unfortunate injury became a fly in the ointment. He got it on level ground during the warm-up. He dashed forward and promptly grabbed his calf muscle. Chances are the injury will put an end to his participation in UEFA EURO.
In the second half Barinov had to leave the pitch too because of an injury in elbow-head contact. Fortunately, there were no serious consequences.
Our team controlled the pitch and the ball, but scoring chances were rare. Ozdoyev and Zobnin could have scored. The Poles responded with one dangerous attack, which was put out by Shunin who threw himself at the forward's feet.
The game was heading for a draw when substitute Miranchuk was awarded a penalty which Spartak player Sobolev used to score. Even a modest 1-0 win lifted the spirits of the Russian team and their fans.
“I was encouraged by our players' activity and their decent training level,” Talayev said. “I’d like to have the quality of assists from the defensive improved. For some reason, Ionov didn't show his best speed. Zhirkov’s play was decent but he got tired in the second half. Perhaps, Karavaev will play on the right flank of defense in the match against Belgium, and Fernandez,who has recovered from his injury, on the left. Cherchesov let him onto the pitch in the last 15 minutes."
However, should much importance be attached to test matches on the eve of major tournaments? Before UEFA Euro 2012, the Russian team defeated Italy with a score of 3-0 in the away game but did not make it out of the group, while the Squadra Azzurra played in the final.