Former England manager Fabio Capello has guided Russia to its first World Cup spot in almost a dozen years.
The final score looked a little surprising as Azerbaijan equalized late Tuesday, but the ultimate outcome was more or less expected: Russia is back into the World Cup (as Group F winner, no less) after failing to qualify for Germany 2006 or South Africa 2010.
Russia needed just a single point against Azerbaijan to book its latest spot under Capello, whose World Cup reputation was a bit in tatters following England’s unimpressive 2010 appearance.
This will be Russia’s first World Cup since 2002, when the country failed to move beyond group stage. The Russians haven’t advanced past group stage in the tournament since the 1980s, in fact, when talented teams under the old Soviet Union banner advanced into the second stage in 1982 and 1986.
Russia nearly made it to South Africa three-plus years ago but fell in a playoff to Slovenia. Capello was hired two years ago to shepherd the team successfully to Brazil, and the Russians took a bit step Tuesday when Alexander Samedov’s wonderful ball cut up the Azerbaijan back line, leaving Roman Shirokov in alone to score the telling goal. A late goal from the hosts made the final 1-1, but was still enough to book Russia’s spot and to consign Portugal.
Also worth noting here is that Russia will not play another World Cup qualifier until 2020. As hosts of World Cup 2018, the Russians qualify automatically.
The updated list of teams that have now officially qualified:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
- United States