How they got here: A lot of money. Let’s just leave it at that.
Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
Schedule: New Zealand (June 17, Saint Petersburg), Portugal (June 21, Moscow), and Mexico (June 24, Kazan)
Players to keep an eye on: Forward Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar), Forward Artem Dzyuba (Zenit St. Petersburg), Midfielder Aleksey Miranchuk (Lokomotiv)
Outlook: The hosts of this year’s tournament and next year’s World Cup Russia enter this next two year stretch with plenty to prove. It has been an interesting road to this tournament for the European side, with too many headaches off of the field to count.
On the pitch it is very much an unknown side. Almost all of their players will be coming from the Russian Premier League which has not fared particularly well during in Champions League and Europa League play. On the national team level they have only played twice in 2017, losing to the Ivory Coast and drawing with Belgium back in March.
If Russia is to succeed in this year’s tournament they are going to need to score. Part of the reason why they failed last year at the European Championships last year is their inability to score first. In each of their three matches Russia fell behind early and were unable to mount much of an attacking threat, save for a late goal from defender Vasili Berezutski against England.
In terms of creating attacking chances Russia will look towards midfielder Aleksei Miranchuk of Lokomotiv to light a spark. Miranchuk tallied eight assists for Lokomotiv during the Russian Premier League this season and helped earn a spot in the 2017-2018 Europa League. His decisive passing skills and willingness to drive at defenses should help open things up for Fyodor Smolov and Artem Dzyuba.
Defending might also be a problem for Russia. Despite making a name for himself in Russian football as a goalkeeper, head coach Stanislav Cherchesov has not exactly succeeded in building a winning defense. Since taking over as manager last year Cherchesov’s Russian side has allowed 11 goals in seven matches. While that might not be much of a problem against New Zealand they may struggle against Mexico and Portugal.
With this being Russia’s only true test ahead of World Cup 2018 expectations are high for this side. The problem is their side might not be ready for the limelight or the scrutiny for Russia’s off-the-field behavior. Cherchesov will need to have his side organized and prepared to make a run at a knockout round spot in this year’s tournament. Otherwise he might not be around to see next year’s tournament.