After three games, two goals and just one point, Russia’s brief time at Euro 2016 is over.
It has been a period where more headlines were made by their supporters than by the team itself. Of course, this was only a small minority, and they certainly weren’t the only ones to blame. Russia’s suspended disqualification by UEFA is probably the only reason that anyone will remember they were even at the tournament.
Russia weren’t particularly fancied by anyone prior to the tournament. Placed in group B alongside Wales, Slovakia and England, none of the tournament favourites, they would no doubt have fancied their chances of qualifying for the knockout stage.
Russia’s Suspended Disqualification the only mark they made at Euro 2016
England 1 – 1 Russia
Their first fixture was against England in Marseille, which is where most of the trouble originated. Inside the ground, a flare was thrown into a stand where the English fans were seated. Further crowd disturbances and racist chanting resulted in Russia’s suspended disqualification from Euro 2016. Any further incidents of a similar nature would have seen them removed altogether. Contrary to popular belief, the violence that erupted in the streets of Marseille was not a factor.
On the pitch, Russia were clearly missing the likes of Alan Dzagoev and Yuri Zhirkov; England will probably still be wondering how they didn’t win the game comfortably. Wayne Rooney was pulling the strings in midfield, and was impressive throughout. Right from the kick-off, it was apparent that the Russian players just did not have the same fitness levels as their opponents. Igor Akinfeev didn’t stand a chance with Eric Dier’s free kick in the 70th minute, a 25-yard rocket into the top corner. Realistically, England should have already been ahead by that point, such was their dominance.
England manager Roy Hodgson received plenty of criticism for trying to protect, rather than increase, their lead. He may have escaped unscathed had Russia not forced a last gasp equaliser through Vasili Berezutski. Not that Russia minded: they had taken a point off the group favourites; on paper, their toughest game. Their defence had solidly repelled wave after wave of England attack. Things looked bright at this point.
Russia 1 – 2 Slovakia
Slovakia were a bit of an unknown quantity before the tournament. They had never before qualified for the European Championships, and had lost their opening game to Wales. Early indications were that the two sides were quite evenly matched. Slovakian talisman Marek Hamšík fired an early shot over the bar. At the other end, striker Artem Dzyuba went close with a header. Fyodor Smolov then fired narrowly wide from just outside the penalty area, following a swift Russian counter-attack.
Shortly after the half hour, Vladimir Weiss put Slovakia ahead. Despite calls for offside, the winger latched onto a Hamšík long ball. Using neat footwork, his cutback fooled two Russian defenders leaving him with a lot of goal to aim at. Weiss promptly curled the ball into the bottom corner.
Weiss returned the favour to his team mate just before half time. He played a short corner to Hamšík, who ran into the area, pulled back the ball and squeezed a shot between two players. The shot flew past Akinfeev and smashed off the inside of the post.
In the second half, Russia were running out of ideas, and often resorted to taking pot shots from outside the box. They were given a glimmer of hope in the 80th minute, with substitute Denis Glushakov heading in a cross from Igor Shatov. The goal gave Russia renewed hope, but Slovakia bravely held on to collect their first points of the tournament.
Russia 0 – 3 Wales
This was a do-or-die event for Leonid Slutsky’s men. As the scoreline suggests, it was not an occasion they rose to. Russia were totally outplayed by a Wales side determined to seal their qualification from the group.
Wales signalled their intent early on, attacking almost from the kick-off. It took just eleven minutes for Chris Coleman’s men to make their dominance pay. Joe Allen profited from an interception from James Chester that took two Russian midfielders out of play. Still inside the centre circle, Allen hit a superb through ball to Aaron Ramsey, who was clearly onside. The Arsenal star delicately lobbed the advancing Akinfeev to put Wales ahead.
The second goal just about summed up Russia’s tournament. Neil Taylor found himself in acres of space after escaping his marker on the left flank. Bale played him through, and after seeing his first shot saved by Akinfeev, smashed the rebound into the net. The Swansea full-back’s last goal was in non-league football for Wrexham – six years ago. Taylor looked as surprised as anyone that he had scored.
Two goals down after twenty minutes, and Russia were in a bleak situation. Russia tried to get back into the game when Akinfeev hit a punt upfield, and Ashley Williams’ attempted clearance merely pushed the ball further in Dzyuba’s path. Unfortunately for him, Hennessey was equal to the task. If anything, this just served to motivate their opponents, with Bale and Ramsey both testing Akinfeev numerous times.
Russia’s elimination from the tournament was confirmed in the 67th minute. Ramsey received the ball from Chris Gunter and advanced towards goal. As three players moved towards him, Ramsey slipped a controlled pass to Bale, who took a touch and then toe-poked a third goal into the bottom corner.
When the full-time whistle blew nobody could argue with the scoreline; it flattered their opponents. It would get better with the realisation that England had drawn, meaning Wales had won the group. Russia had exited Euro 2016 with barely a whimper.
Leonid Slutsky immediately offered his resignation after the game, admitting that his side’s performances had not been good enough. The worrying thing for Russia’s fans is, where do they go from here?
Sacking Fabio Cappello three years before the end of his contract has cost the Russian Football Union an estimated $5.56 million. Even this amount was paid by the country’s richest man, billionaire Alisher Usmanov. Leonid Slutsky, his replacement and also the manager of CSKA Moscow, was merely being paid his expenses in the job. With the RFU still in some considerable debt, who takes over? To hire a top coach will take the kind of wages that they will struggle to find.
With Russia due to host the World Cup in 2018, they will be anxious see some improvement. They will especially want to avoid being only the second host nation to exit the competition at the group stage. That happened to South Africa in 2010, and it’s hard to see any other outcome in two years’ time. Igor Akinfeev’s heroics, particularly against Wales, are the main reason Russia weren’t heavily thrashed in all three games.
It is not a tournament any of their fans will remember with any relish. Russia’s suspended disqualification from the tournament is the only abiding memory of their participation.