The host nation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia were not required to play a qualifying campaign. As such, the current Russian squad is relatively untested going into the competition this summer, making it difficult to attempt to predict how they will fare. Although they have failed to get out of the group stages in any major international tournament since Euro 2008, and are categorically the lowest ranked of all the 32 teams in this World Cup, statistically speaking, they have the easiest group in modern World Cup history. It is entirely plausible, as poor as their recent history has been, that they should make it past the group stages this year.
However, there are complications in this scenario. There have been widespread reports of disputes between the players and the coaching staff, disputes which can significantly lower morale and disrupt the cohesion and focus that is required to succeed on such a stage as this. Russia also faced problems with uncontrollable hooliganism at the 2016 Euros, which prompted UEFA to go as far as to threaten the team with expulsion from the tournament. By hosting the competition this summer, they have an opportunity to fix their tarnished image, and if they can sort out their off-field issues, progress from the group in a strong position.
- Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) – Taking up the captaincy from midfielder Igor Denisov, who is expected to be left out of the squad due to a falling out with the coach, CSKA Moscow goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has had a relatively impressive season. An experienced veteran of the game, the 32-year-old needs to use his leadership to solidify the team together. Leading a team from the back is always a difficult job, however Akinfeev has an even harder job on his hands this summer: figuring out a way to stop Egypt’s Mo Salah from running riot in their group clash.
- Aleksander Golovin (CSKA Moscow) – A young up and coming playmaker, Golovin is considered the face of the new generation of Russian footballers coming up through the ranks. At only 21 years old, he has already caught the eye of the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona. He will be a critical player in Russia’s creativity and attacking force this summer. A technically gifted player, it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his calmness and composure on such a large stage.
Stanislav Cherchesov – The reports of disputes between players and the coaching staff have done nothing to raise confidence in this Russian team, however, Cherchesov has shown he is not afraid of ruffling some feathers, and putting faith in the younger generation. A former goalkeeper himself, his relationship with Akinfeev will be critical to maintaining some form of unity within the squad.