Offshore Drilling, Europe: at Russia 1, Portugal 0

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Man of the Match: With an early goal allowing Russia to play a very controlled match, the hosts were a series of above average if unspectacular performances. Still, there was one performance that should be particularly heartening to Russia supporters. Although Sergei Ignashevich may only have been slightly better than his teammates, the veteran defender showed a glimpse of a second life under Fabio Capello.

Ignashevich has always been a quality player, but under previous regimes he was often left exposed, the 33-year-old often found lacking after having his speed tested. Today, Russia’s organization left the veteran CSKA defender with clean up duty, his clearances (often aerial) helping to preserve the host’s control of the day.

Is it too simplistic to draw a line between Ignashevich and John Terry? They both veteran defenders who serve as cornerstones for teams Capello’s inherited, and in each case, their only flaw was deteriorating foot speed. Terry proved effective for England. Can Ignashevich be a similar, prolonged linchpin with Russia?

Packaged for takeaway:

  • It was a big win for Russia, if not necessarily an upset. Beating Portugal at home would have been expected when the draw came out, but for a team under a new regime, the result was a proof of concept.
  • That concept: A less free-wheeling Russia. Capello played a 4-2-3-1 (versus Portugal’s typical 4-3-3) that, consistent with the coach’s philosophies, was more opportunistic than persuasive.
  • Under Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat, Russia had been a team that often controlled the ball (consistent with those coaches’ philosophies), but in their first big game under Fabio Capello, the Russians proved capable of playing with out it.
  • That’s bigger news than it sounds. Before Capello, you’d expect Russia to eventually break down when they weren’t controlling the game. Even when they dominated the ball, there where still mistake prone (as evidenced in Euro 2012 and their playoff against Slovenia in 2010 World Cup qualifying). Early on, Capello’s solved that problem.
  • Of course, the early goal helped. A great, swift movement in the sixth minute saw play move from Viktor Fayzulin to Roman Shirokov, the Zenit midfielder hitting Aleksandr Kerzakhov with a through ball that put his club teammate on goal. Rui Patricio made an early dive right, leaving his net open for the match’s only goal.
  • Perhaps predictably (given 84 minutes to chase an equalizer), Portugal went on to dominate possession. With Russia’s defense preventing the Seleccao from establishing any fluidity, Portugal was only able to get five shots on Igor Akinfeev despite holding 66 percent of the Opta possession.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo’s mood was the barometer. When his team is executing, he’s quieted by his determined. When his side becomes disjointed and can’t connect, that determination creates a mask of confusion, anger and betrayal, a look that was plastered on Ronaldo’s face at the Luzhniki.
  • Ronaldo’s standout moment came with the ball 40 yards away. On the left wing, he tried to make a far post run but took only a step before colliding with Russia right back Aleksandr Anyukov. Despite being three inches taller and (likely) 15-20 pounds heavier, Ronaldo went down in pain, rolling around as if his nose had been broken. You can imagine Anyukov’s confusion.
  • Once his simulation was done, Ronaldo looked up at the referee, flashed a forehead full of black rubber pellets, and implicitly asked why his lovely performance couldn’t draw a whistle, let alone a card.
  • The win keeps Russia perfect at the top of Group F: 3-0-0. They’ve yet to allow a goal, and with few challenges among the packet’s four other teams, Russia should maintain control of the group through their June trip to Lisbon.
  • For Portugal, the pressure is on not to drop points . If they do, Fabio Capello’s squad can almost guarantee a trip to Brazil with a draw at the Estadio da Luz, with Portugal again left to navigate the playoff round.

Southgate: Racism isn’t just a Russian problem

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Credit England boss Gareth Southgate for honesty.

The national team manager was asked about the plethora of stories regarding racism in Russian football ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: PSG punished for incidents vs. Real ]

Given the climate between Russia and England, there are any number of roads he could’ve taken in reply. Suffice it to say, he chose the high one.

Pointing out that racism is everywhere, Southgate used the example of Kick It Out manager Troy Townsend showing the coach some racist comments posted on a photo of English youth national team.

“Our teams mix and the youngsters look up to the senior team,” said Southgate. “I know most of those young players really closely and I’ve seen them come through. To see them abused in that way is absolutely disgusting. When we speak about other countries, I find it difficult to deflect what we’ve seen there.”

“I don’t think we should just talk about racism in Russia. We have got to get our own house in order. There are still things going on in our own country around racism that aren’t correct. We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we are going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country and until we do I think we should stop firing those things off elsewhere.”

Full marks to Southgate for that, now more folks need to turn words into action and cut the vile comments off at the knees.

PSG fined, will have to close part of stadium at next UCL match

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fans had a bit too much fun in their UEFA Champions League loss against Real Madrid, but apparently just a bit.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

Les Parisiens  are facing a partial stadium ban for next season’s first UCL contest after their fans were charged with blocking a stairway, setting off fireworks, and using a laser pointer.

The punishment includes closing the North Stand at the Parc Des Princes and a fine of a little over $52,000.

The stadium ban is one thing, but $52,000, UEFA? How will PSG ever afford it? Neymar will certainly have to take a pay cut.

(If you’re curious, Neymar makes approximately $1 million per week).

Injuries leave host Russia limping ahead of World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) With less than three months to go until the World Cup in Russia, the host nation’s players are dropping like flies.

A spate of knee injuries this year has left the Russians hurrying to find cover at the back and trying to replace a key attacking threat.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

First, center back Georgy Dzhikiya tore his knee ligaments during a friendly in January. The same happened to Viktor Vasin a month later. Russia’s defense was already thin, so those injuries prompted calls for the 35-year-old Berezutsky twins, Alexei and Vasily, to return from international retirement. They refused to do so.

Now coach Stanislav Cherchesov must also seek a replacement for Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin, who tore his knee ligaments in the Europa League last week. That puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Fyodor Smolov, now likely to be Russia’s undisputed first-choice striker for the World Cup.

“We’re not complaining about anything,” Cherchesov said Thursday. “Fate is often testing us in various ways but we always try to be ready.”

The injuries mean Cherchesov will be forced to experiment during Friday’s friendly against Brazil and Tuesday’s game against France, both at home. Short-term medical issues have ruled three more fringe players out of those games.

Here’s a closer look at the issues facing Russia ahead of the World Cup:


If you had to pick one Russian striker for the World Cup, it might as well be Fyodor Smolov.

On track to be the Russian league’s top scorer for the third season in a row, Smolov has been working on his English skills as he eyes a move to the Premier League.

Smolov was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window but opted to stay with FC Krasnodar, saying he didn’t want to abandon his team as it battles for a spot in the Champions League next season.

With Kokorin almost certainly out of the picture for the World Cup, Russia’s backup options include Anton Zabolotny, who is still settling in at Zenit after a recent move from newly promoted FC Tosno. The 22-year-old Alexei Miranchuk can play as a forward, but is better in a deeper role.


Russian players tend to stay in their domestic league, but there’s one big exception in midfield – Denis Cheryshev.

The winger came through the Real Madrid youth system when his father was coaching there and is now at Villarreal, but frequent injuries have dented hopes he can add some spice to the national team.

Now he’s fit again and in the squad to face Brazil and France.

Elsewhere in the midfield, there are the promising and creative youngsters Roman Zobnin and Alexander Golovin, but Russia doesn’t currently have a dominant defensive midfielder.


Cherchesov has a reputation as a difficult coach to get along with, and Russian media have regularly reported fallings-out with various players.

One of those outside the squad is Igor Denisov, who last played for Russia in 2016. He has been playing well in a defensive midfield role this season for Lokomotiv Moscow, the team at the top of the Russian league standings. Denisov and Cherchesov clashed during the latter’s time as Dynamo Moscow coach.

Also absent from the squad is forward Artyom Dzyuba. A talented striker who has scored 11 goals in 22 games for Russia but has a reputation for being hot-headed, Dzyuba was deemed surplus to requirements at Zenit and sent on loan to Arsenal Tula. In three games there, he has scored three goals and set up two more to put himself back in the World Cup contention.


Russia’s soccer team hasn’t escaped the country’s doping scandals.

Defensive midfielder Ruslan Kambolov is under investigation by FIFA for a possible doping case revealed by Moscow laboratory documents, but hasn’t been suspended.

The team’s schedule was disrupted Wednesday by drug-testing, which took more than five hours and delayed training. On Thursday, the team said five more doping control officers turned up to take samples from the team.

Wilshere injured, could play in England’s second friendly

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I have no idea what tendinopathy means, but Arsenal and England will be hoping it’s only a minor thing for Jack Wilshere.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

The resurgent Gunners midfielder is going to miss at least one of England’s friendlies this international break after suffering a knee injury in training.

“Jack just felt some tendinopathy in his knee but it’s nothing too serious,” Southgate said. “We decided to leave him back at base and see how he responds, and we hope to have him with us on Saturday.”

England is in Netherlands on Friday, and returns to London to host Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Arsenal doesn’t play until April 1 when it visits Stoke City.