World Cup | Can Russia perform without their old Soviet comrades?

In years gone by the old Soviet Union national team were one of the games superpowers.

They won the inaugural European Championships in 1960, finished as runners-up on three occasions, and came fourth on another.

Although they never reached those heights in the World Cup, they did finish fourth in 1966, and reached the quarter-finals or their equivalent on another four occasions.

Ever since the break up of the Soviet Union, they have come nowhere near reaching those levels.

In three World Cups they have been knocked out in the groups in all of them, while in the Euros they reached the semi-finals in 2008, but in their other four appearances they were eliminated at the group stage.

Can Russia perform on home soil or did their hopes of achieving anything in football die along with the Soviet Union?

There’s no doubt that their recent record has been nothing short of shambolic, and it will hurt Russians that since the break up, it’s actually Ukraine who have performed best at a World Cup by reaching the quarter-finals in 2006.

On paper, this Russian side doesn’t look like a quarter-final team, but on home soil strange things can happen, and they might be able to make a run to the latter stages of this summer’s competition if they can get some luck along the way, especially as the draw suggests they could run into Spain or Portugal in the last 16.

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Another legitimate argument is how much success would the Soviet Union have had back then if the country had split earlier than it did, and to be honest, it’s easy to think they would have been nowhere near as successful, and maybe it wasn’t the Russian influence that had the biggest impact on the team.

Of the Soviet Union’s ten most capped players, four of them would now be considered as from Ukraine, one would be from Belarus, and one would be from Georgia.

Even from that list, Oleg Blokhin – who was born in Kiev – was the Soviet Union’s most capped player and top goalscorer, while their second top goalscorer and ninth most capped player, Oleg Protasov, was born in Dnipropetrovsk, which is also now in Ukraine.

Russia is a huge and vast country, but a lot of their stars in the Soviet era came from Moscow, and the other football strongholds back then were in areas that are no longer within Russia’s borders.

If the Soviet Union still existed how good would they be?

 

None of the old Soviet nations actually qualified for this tournament with Russia being guaranteed a place as hosts, so it seems that the game in those areas isn’t as strong as it once was as other countries have surpassed them, but there are still several players who would be deemed good enough to earn a place in the current Russian squad.

Ragnar Klavan of Liverpool and Estonia would get a place, especially as Russia are struggling for centre backs.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Arsenal and Armenia would also be in the side while the Ukrainian duo, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko would definitely be in the squad.

There would undoubtedly be others but those four could probably go straight into the starting eleven and improve it.

The current Russia squad is full of players who are playing their football at home with just three of the 35 man preliminary squad playing for foreign teams.

That’s a remarkably low number, and while it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the fact that Russian clubs haven’t been making much of an impact in European competitions would suggest the league isn’t particularly strong at the moment.

However, home advantage can be huge in a World Cup and Russia are in a group that they can definitely get out of which would be a decent return when you consider they haven’t managed that since the days of the Soviet Union.

Gerry Johnston

 

This article originally appeared on gj2018worldcup.wordpress.com, where you can find a definite World Cup guide.