The last window allocated by the International Football Federation (FIFA) for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers opens today. The Russian national team, which is at the top of the table in its group, is very close to getting to the championship directly, bypassing the play-offs. To do this, she does not even need feats: she will just need to beat the outsiders of the Cypriots, and then take at least a point in the match with the Croats pursuing the Russians. True, recent history shows that November is not the best time for the Russian team. Most often this month she has a clear decline.
The table of group H in front of the final window for the qualification of the Qatari World Championship now looks extremely pleasant for the Russian eye. The Russian national team is at the top. She has already secured herself at least a safety option to enter the world championship – through play-offs for those who finished second. But, of course, hitting them will already be regarded as a failure: the alignment looks too good. Only the Croatians, who were considered the favorites of the group before the start of the selection, and are two points behind, can catch up with the Russians. And in order not to miss them ahead, the Russian team does not need to do anything extraordinary – it will be enough to take four points in the two closing matches of the tournament. More precisely, it is necessary today in St. Petersburg to beat the outsiders of the Cypriots, and on Sunday not to lose to the Croatian national team, “warming up” on the Maltese, in Split. In the match, which actually has the status of the final, the Russian team, if it does not misfire with the Cypriots, will be satisfied with a draw.
Some facts add to the charm of the layout.
Under the leadership of the new coach Valery Karpin, the Russian national team has already gone through two windows and only once failed to win in five matches, when in September it hosted the same Croats, dispersed with them in peace – 0: 0.
So, almost the central theme in front of each of these windows was the losses of the Russian national team, which seemed colossal, taking into account both the number of eliminated players and the importance for the team of some of them. There are still losses – Ilya Samoshnikov, Arsen Zakharyan, Rifat Zhemaletdinov. Artem Dziuba, who ignored the October challenge, Valery Karpin simply did not include at least in the long list of candidates for participation in meetings with Cypriots and Croats. But, whatever one may say, their scale is far from catastrophic and the Russian application is definitely stronger than the one that was in October, when domestic football players coped with strong Slovaks and Slovenes. She is stronger, if only thanks to the return of Alexander Golovin, who missed the October window due to injury, which adds a variety of tactical options in the middle of the field, in the attacking line.
Facts are slightly alarming, forcing to be cautious about the seemingly excellent alignment, however, there are also. And the bad performance at the turn of October and November of the forwards Fyodor Smolov and Anton Zabolotny or, for example, the terrible deficit of playing practice in Alexey Miranchuk’s Atalanta are not the main ones among them. The main one is easy to single out for those who closely follow Russian football in all its manifestations.
November is, to put it mildly, not the best time of the year for him. The recent failures of domestic football clubs in European competitions are largely a consequence of their indistinct play at sunset. But the same thing happens with the national team.
If we take a segment of five years before the end of this cycle, then within its framework the Russian national team played a total of 11 matches in November. In them, she won only two victories – over the Romanians who lost their top status in 2016 and the “dwarf” Sanmarines in 2019. But she was beaten by the plain Qatarians, the Belgians and the Germans were smashed, the Swedes were confidently crushed. And the previous season can generally be considered the quintessence of the trend. In the first half of autumn, the Russian team, led by Stanislav Cherchesov, played very cheerfully, seemed like a team ready to challenge the football elite. In November, the whole spirit was released from her. In a friendly match, she was unable to score against the weak Moldovans, having played with them in a draw, and then stumbled in two most important meetings of the League of Nations: with the Turks – in the fight, 2: 3, with the Serbs – in an absolutely shameful way, having conceded five unanswered goals.
In fact, there is an obvious version about why the Russian team is having a hard time in November. The Russian football season has a peculiarity – it starts extremely early. This year, the Russian championship opened on 23 July, while the supply of leading players, including for the Croatian team of the “big five” championship – Spanish, German, Italian – is much, three to four weeks later.
By the end of autumn, Russian footballers, especially those who are still playing in European competitions, are already receiving a colossal load, “eating up” the reserve of physical strength.
And “physics” is the foundation on which the game of the national team was built under Cherchesov, and which in reality has not gone anywhere after the change of the mentor. Harshness, density and speed are still essential ingredients for her success.
2022 World Cup qualifier in UEFA zone
11.11: Azerbaijan-Luxembourg, Ireland-Portugal. 14.11: Luxembourg-Ireland, Portugal-Serbia.
11.11: Georgia-Sweden, Greece-Spain. 14.11: Spain-Sweden, Greece-Kosovo.
12.11: Northern Ireland-Lithuania, Italy-Switzerland. 15.11: Switzerland-Bulgaria, Northern Ireland-Italy.
13.11: Bosnia and Herzegovina-Finland, France-Kazakhstan. November 16: Finland-France, Bosnia and Herzegovina-Ukraine.
13.11: Wales-Belarus, Belgium-Estonia. 16.11: Wales-Belgium, Czech Republic-Estonia.
12.11: Moldova-Scotland, Denmark-Faroe Islands, Austria-Israel. 15.11: Scotland-Denmark, Israel-Faroe Islands, Austria-Moldova.
13.11: Norway-Latvia, Turkey-Gibraltar, Montenegro-Netherlands. 16.11: Netherlands-Norway, Montenegro-Turkey, Gibraltar-Latvia.
11.11: Russia-Cyprus, Slovakia-Slovenia, Malta-Croatia. 14.11: Slovenia-Cyprus, Malta-Slovakia, Croatia-Russia.
12.11: Hungary-San Marino, England-Albania, Andorra-Poland. 15.11: San Marino — England, Poland — Hungary, Albania — Andorra.
11.11: Armenia-North Macedonia, Romania-Iceland, Germany-Liechtenstein. 14.11: North Macedonia-Iceland, Liechtenstein-Romania, Armenia-Germany.
The group winners go directly to the finals of the World Championship. The runner-up teams will compete for three more spots in the additional qualifier.
The national teams of Germany and Denmark reached the final of the World Cup.