When Russia won the bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup in 2010, the country's football was in an upswing, especially after the Andrey Arshavin inspired-side finished a worthy semifinalist at Euro 2008.
But with one year to go for the World Cup, Russian fans now seem to have no team to rally around. After two forgettable international tournaments – the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros – even the Confederations Cup has been a dampener, with the side crashing out in the group stages.
But Alexandr Kerzhakov, Russia's record goal-scorer, believes that the side coached by former goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov can still turn it around.
“We have one more year before the World Cup,” he said on the sidelines of the Gazprom Football for Friendship event here. “Our coach is gathering a new team at the moment. One year I think is enough for the players to get acquainted with each other and work together as one.”
Experts attribute the current crisis in Russian football to the lack of young players coming through. Much of the blame has been placed on the Russian club system. It has a rule limiting the number of foreign players, which many believe has led to the Russian players taking their positions in their teams for granted.
In fact, CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg both won the erstwhile UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) twice in the gap of four years – 2005 and 2008 respectively. If these successes, along with the 2008 run, were expected to kick-start a revolution, it hasn't happened thus far.
Kerzakhov though feels the World Cup at home can spur things.
“I think since the World Cup will be played in our home country, and people will support us, it will be good,” he said. “Football is developing. League is slowly getting stronger. We also have to take into account that there are more and more stadiums coming up.”
“So I am hoping that during the World Cup there will be new football stars who will be noted and recognised not only during the tournament but for many years after that also.”
The writer was in St. Petersburg at the invitation of Football for Friendship.
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