By Matthew Booth
Privyet, inshyrazh (Hello, again)
During the writing of this piece I waited expectantly for the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2018 and more importantly to see what the hosts were going to offer us against the virtually unknown Saudi’s. Apart from Robbie Williams giving us the middle finger, they didn’t disappoint!
Much derided, leading up to the global showpiece, the Russian squad had two things going for them: a partisan crowd and the urge to prove the critics wrong. Rewind to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup when Bafana Bafana found themselves in a similar situation. Sbornaya have leaked goals of late, especially against classy opponents such as Argentina, France, Brazil and Spain…10 in all. Their 3-5-2 formation did not bode well for Cherchesov and the fact that he lost his two best defenders Vasin and Dzhikiya, to long term injuries had filled the camp with more trepidation and saw a change to four-at-the-back over the last month, after all you cannot expect the 34 year old, ex-Chelsea player, Yuri Zhirkov to play as an effective left wing-back.
Alan Dzagoev, the southerner, who caught my eye in my last season in Russia in 2008 was their creative think-tank until the 23rd minute when he pulled his hamstring. Depending on what ‘grade’ tear it is will determine if the midfielder will play any further part in the tournament. Smolov, who has picked up the Golden Boot in the Russian Premier League on the last two occasions, and Golovin caused endless trouble by picking the pockets of the Saudi’s and catching them on the break to great effect. The replacement for Dzagoev, though, had an enormous impact on the game as the Spanish-raised, Villareal, midfielder, Cherychev used his cultured left foot to score two sublime goals.
Having seen the Russians decimate the Saudi’s I still have my doubts as to whether their defence will hold up to tougher scrutiny and the Egyptian and Uruguayan attack will certainly offer that, therefore, despite their goal-difference, I don’t see the Russians progressing…as much as I would love to see the hosts into the ‘last 32’.
For my chance to win millions through Betway’s spread on the WC2018 pool…I am a retired footballer after all…I have chanced my arm with…
Group A: Winners being Uruguay and the 2nd spot being nicked by Salah & Co. Upset #1
Group B: Spain and Morocco…yes, Portugal will not progress as Africa will stake its claim. Bear in mind that the Moroccans did not concede a goal during a tough qualifying group. Upset #2
Group C: France and Peru…Peru having taken 5th spot in the qualifying process managed to beat Uruguay at home and lost to them away, Argentina and Colombia when it counted and having done the hard yards without their talisman Guerrero whose successful appeal to over-turn a drugs ban has subsequently allowed him back onto the international stage. Upset #3
Group D: Argentina and Nigeria offers us two of the tournaments best attacking units in Di Maria, Higuain, Messi, & Aguero…Iwobi, Iheanacho, Musa & Moses which I feel will be more than enough to get them into the ‘last 32’.
The remaining progressions I am hoping will look something like this…
Group E: Brazil and Switzerland
Group F: Germany and Sweden
Group G: Belgium and England
Group H: Colombia and Senegal
I certainly hope that you are enjoying the festival of football as much as I am…
Do svhidanye, byd zdorov (Goodbye, until next time, keep well)