Expected, yet encouraging. Pretty much the summary of an opening game of the Confederations Cup which looked more like a scrimmage than a proper contest. But tournament hosts, Russia, will have no qualms about that as they got their tournament to a positive start against New Zealand on Saturday.
As explained in our preview, this is a Russian squad lacking star power and technical prowess. They will need their all-domestic squad to overachieve in a group that also includes European champions, Portugal, and CONCACAF giants, Mexico. They didn’t need to worry too much about their weaknesses though, facing a Kiwis side that lacked any imagination and whose back looked very shaky in the absence of captain and West Ham central defender, Winston Reid, due to injury.
After missing three golden chances – hitting the post twice – in the first 12 minutes, it looked a matter of time before the hosts capitalised and in the 31st minute, a well-executed high press led to a one-two between FC Rostov teammates, Alexsandr Erohkin and Dmitriy Poloz which sent through box-to-box midfielder, Denis Glushakov, who lobbed the ball over New Zealand goalkeeper, Stefan Marinovic, before being fumbled over the line by defender, Michael Boxall.
One of those players the hosts will be relying on to take his game to new heights in this tournament is FC Krasnodar forward, Fedor Smolov, who has bagged 38 Russian Premier League goals in the last two seasons. Easily the best player on the pitch against the Kiwis, Smolov’s movement caused all sorts of problems for New Zealand, often coming deep to collect the ball and using deft touches to throw off defenders while opening up spaces for Yuri Zhirkov and Denis Samedov to exploit along the flanks. His hard work paid off in the 69th minute when he picked up the ball at the half way line, fed a persistently lively Samedov on the wing, who crossed it back to Smolov to tap home past Marinovic.
Russia goes up 2-0 off the foot of Smolov in the 2017 Confederations Cup. pic.twitter.com/PL6IyF60gZ
— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) June 17, 2017
Aside from a five-minute spell New Zealand had short after Smolov’s goal which finally tested Igor Akinfeev in the hosts’ net, Russia were hardly bothered by a side who looked as uninspiring as president, Vladimir Putin’s lengthy pre-game speech was.