Why I Love The Russian Premier League

Fans-Russia-Czech-Republic-Euro-2012-Group-A-_2777926

Originally hailing from Ohio, USA, Russian Football NewsAndy Shenk isn’t your average Russian football expert. He tells all about the source of his love for the people’s game in the Eurasian “motherland”…

I made the mistake a few years back of falling in love with a foreign sports league. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the Russian Premier League, but rather that I now belong to that weird, vaguely-defined “hipster” crowd. I spend my time on Twitter talking about Shirokov, Ozbiliz, Tagirbekov, and Sapogov, Kuban’s Europa League chances and Volga’s campaign to avoid relegation. Oh, and I bought skinny jeans to look like everyone else in Moscow.

It’s bad. I’ve detached from baseball games in the summer and hoops in the winter to embrace a league that probably no more than half a dozen people from my home state of Indiana could discuss intelligibly. What’s worse, almost every Russian I’ve shared my obsession with thinks I’m either crazy or cute…anything but serious. Continue reading

Russia Moving Forward: Developing the National Team

Spain - Russia. EURO-2013 U-21.

Russian football expert Andy Shenk looks at how foundations are being laid for the national team’s future in an article originally published on Russian Football News

A lot of ink has been spilled on the future of Russia’s national team since Dick Advocaat’s squad crashed out of Euro 2012. An eight-match unbeaten streak for the senior team with Fabio Capello at the helm has put Russia in excellent position to qualify for Brazil 2014, but major questions remain, particularly in the junior ranks. Despite Capello’s willingness to call up a much broader selection of players – provincial clubs like Terek, Kuban, Rubin and Anzhi have seen a jump in national team invites in the last year – the starting XI has hardly been touched.

Sure, there have been gradual adjustments to the watershed 2008 squad that upset Holland in the Euro quarterfinals, but the defense remains nearly the same – Akinfeev in goal, Anyukov, V. Berezutski, Ignashevich on the back line – while the rest of the squad isn’t much younger. The Zenit midfield trio of Denisov, Shirokov and Fayzulin, likely to start on Friday vs Portugal, are 29, 31 and 27, respectively. Up front, Bystrov, Zhirkov and Kerzhakov are even older – 29, 29 and 30.

Dzagoev and Kokorin, both 22, are the two bright spots in Russia’s future, but they are the only two players to have featured in an official match that will also be under 30 come 2018. Dmitri Kombarov and Andrei Eschenko, two left backs (though Kombarov can play in the midfield, as well) are more recent additions to the squad, but at 26 and 29, only Kombarov is likely to factor in 2018. 27-year-old goalie Igor Akinfeev and Viktor Fayzulin will be there, too, barring injury, along with super sub midfielder Denis Glushakov, but that’s the extent of Russia’s U-27 talent with national team experience. Continue reading

Saying Goodybe to Luzhniki

Êàëåéäîñêîï

Andy Shenk writes for Russian Football News on his experience at Spartak Moscow’s final fixture at the Luzhniki Stadium…

Ever since I arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, the weather has been gorgeous. Balmy temperatures, sunshine and a cool breeze for five days now – not the type of good fortune generally associated with the Russian capital. When I left last December after a three-month stay, I think I’d seen a total of five days of sunshine during the autumn. Otherwise, rain, sleet, snow, chilling winds and grey skies overhead dragged on and on and on.

It was pretty foolish, then, of me to bring my jacket along to the Spartak – Krylia Sovetov match Friday night at Luzhniki Stadium. The ubiquitous babushkas may still have been bundled up in overcoats, but everyone else was dressed lightly, enjoying the May 9 holiday weekend.

After a 20-minute walk and 30-minute metro ride, I stepped out of the Sportivnaya metro station and into the crowds of Spartak fans that were meandering toward Luzhniki.

It shocks me every time I’m at a Russian football match, especially after I’ve been away for a while. The media whines and complains about the sport’s rotten fans – the constant swearing, alcohol, and violent clashes. And my disinterested Russian friends look shocked when I tell them I prefer to sit in the cheap seats with those horrid fan clubs. Continue reading

Zenit St Petersburg Will Three-Peat

150061_700x526

Andy Shenk reports on how Zenit St. Petersburg are about to complete a hattrick of Russian Premier League titles for Russianfootballnews.com

Forget the talk about CSKA and Anzhi knocking Zenit from their perch atop Russian football. Despite an early-season slump which saw Zenit pick up five points from five matches between August 25 – September 29, brought on in part by squad turmoil after the flashy Hulk and Witsel signings, St. Petersburg’s flagship club will nip CSKA on the final day of the season thanks to a superior head-to-head record. That’s right, on May 26, Zenit and CSKA will finish with 66 points apiece, eight clear of Anzhi, but Zenit’s 3-1 away win to CSKA last August will be the difference as the men in sky blue celebrate a third-consecutive Premier League crown after wrapping up a win on Amkar Perm’s artificial pitch, 1,500 kilometers from home. Cue the confetti for Zenit’s Italian maestro Luciano Spalletti.

In the first Russian Premier League season to be contested on a fall-spring schedule, five different teams have topped the table, Zenit, Spartak, Terek, CSKA and Anzhi. Yet it is CSKA that have been the undisputed favorites since passing Anzhi on October 28 for 1st place in the league, a spot they’ve yet to relinquish. The Army Men’s balance is easily noted by league bests in goals scored (44) and goals conceded (19).  Eight points up on Zenit with seven matches to play, CSKA’s 4th title in 11 years, and 1st since 2006, appeared wrapped up, but recent draws with rival Moscow clubs Spartak and Dinamo have allowed Zenit to close the gap to four points. With the late-season schedule favoring the challengers, CSKA fans are due for heartbreak. Continue reading

Hypothetical XI #11 – Soviet Union

soviet_union_flag_map_by_ltangemon-d5fhhc2

Andy Shenk provides a modern day Soviet Union XI…

It’s been over 20 years since the Soviet Union splintered into 15 independent nations, but memories of the socialist state’s military might and vast expanse linger in the region’s consciousness. Links between Moscow and Belarus, Eastern Ukraine, Transdniestria and the controversial Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain strong, while anti-Russian sentiment in cities such as Lviv, Tallinn and Tbilisi may never abate.

Football, much like the other Olympic sports, the arts, science and technology, magnified the achievements and the failures of the Soviet state. From an empire struggling to rebuild following forty years of unrelenting war, famine and violent repression, the Soviet national team emerged in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics as one of the most dominant squads in the world, winning that tournament as well as the 1960 European Championships, advancing to the Euro finals in 1964 and 1972, and finishing 4th at the 1966 World Cup. Continue reading

CSKA’s Love Too Much for Alania: Russian Premier League Weekend Wrap

Back to Russia with Love.

Back to Russia with Love.

The False Nine’s Russian correspondent Andy Shenk rounds up the action from Week 22 of the Russian Premier League…

With eight games to play, CSKA Moscow’s 4-0 drubbing of Alania in Vladikavkaz pulled the Army Men eight points clear of the pack in the race for the 2012/2013 Russian Premier League title. It’s been six and a half years since the club won its last domestic title and just as long of a championship drought for the Russian capital.

On Monday night in North Ossetia, the visitors made short work of Valery Gazzaev’s revamped roster. Alan Dzagoev, who originally hails from the North Caucasus republic, knocked in Vagner Love’s rebound in the 25th minute to cool off an energetic home side. He completed his brace with another goal in the second half. This was Love’s third match back since rejoining CSKA from Flamengo of Brazil, having previously played for the club between 2004 and 2011. Doumbia rounded out the scoring in extra time after comical defending by Bosnian defender Ogjnen Vranjes. Continue reading

Aleksandr Kokorin – the Next Russian Hero

1819802_w2

Andy Shenk previews Russia’s trip to Northern Ireland, and the rise of a prodigious young talent in their domestic game…

Aleksandr Kokorin celebrated his 22nd birthday on March 19, just four days before suiting up for a World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in Belfast. The Russian national team is ensconced at a golf resort outside of North London, a few kilometers from Arsenal’s training grounds, where they’ve been training since Monday.

The young Dinamo Moscow forward, who captained his club for the first time on Saturday evening during a 1-1 draw with Kuban, admitted this day was a bit different. “[My birthday’s] never come during camp…. This time I had a very strange birthday – with the national team, and in London, no less,” he told reporters after practice.

There certainly was no time to skip downtown, either, for post-workout drinks. Fabio Capello, who signed on with the Russian Football Union last July, has tightened the screws on a squad that earned its country’s ire at Euro 2012, both for their disappointing group stage exit and media reports of pampered footballers run wild in Warsaw.  Continue reading