Another early exit sees Russia fretting about World Cup

Russia, ranked 63rd in the world, will host the World Cup in less than a year but expectations among pundits of the team going far in the competition are low after a string of poor performances.
Russia, ranked 63rd in the world, will host the World Cup in less than a year but expectations among pundits of the team going far in the competition are low after a string of poor performances.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW • Russia's early Confederations Cup exit has sparked a wave of concern among fans as the 2018 World Cup hosts scramble to avoid another embarrassment at next year's Finals.

Stanislav Cherchesov's side slumped out of the World Cup warm-up event on Saturday with a 2-1 defeat by Mexico.

With less than a year to the World Cup Finals, Russia are left with few options to add depth to their squad. And unlike other countries fighting for a spot in the tournament, they will not have the chance to gauge their strength in qualifying.

"We won't have new players tomorrow. This is our main team," Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who also heads the Russian Football Union (RFU), said.

"Aliens aren't going to fly in to play for Russia."

Their Confederations Cup elimination adds to a long list of poor performances on the international stage, including early exits from last year's European Championship and the 2014 World Cup Finals, tournaments in which they failed to win a match.

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested this month that the presence of foreign players in the Russian Premier League could be thwarting the development of homegrown talent and conceded the country had not paid enough attention to youth development.

FEW OPTIONS

We won't have new players tomorrow. This is our main team. Aliens aren't going to fly in to play for Russia.

VITALY MUTKO, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister and head of Russian Football Union, on the lack of depth in the squad.

Russia also has work to do to increase participation levels.

Some 2.7 million people - approximately 1.8 per cent of the population - play football in Russia, the RFU said this year.

In comparison, just over 11 million people in England, or about 20 per cent of the population, say they play some form of football, according to a 2015 report by the English Football Association.

All the players in Russia's Confederations Cup squad play in the domestic league, a situation some pundits say has sheltered them from high-calibre competition and ultimately hindered their growth.

"Our domestic championship does not produce good enough players for us to even think we can contend for anything," former Soviet national team player and commentator Yevgeny Lovchev told Reuters.

"The league is weak. CSKA (Moscow), Spartak (Moscow) and Zenit (St Petersburg) only play among themselves and players have no opportunities to learn," he added, referring to the clubs who dominated the Russian league last season.

"We shouldn't have expectations (for the World Cup)."

Off the pitch, Russian football yesterday came under the spotlight amid fresh allegations of tampering with urine samples.

Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, the author of an explosive report into Russian doping, has told German broadcaster ARD he has new evidence suggesting that positive tests taken from Russian players were exchanged with clean samples.

The investigation is awaiting analysis from the World Anti-Doping Agency.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'Another early exit sees Russia fretting about World Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe