COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Defensive calamities and a lack of creativity up front ended Russia’s dream of reaching the knockout stage of the European championship for the first time in more than a decade, as they finished last in their group on Monday night.
Despite playing two of their three Group B matches at home in St Petersburg, repeated defensive blunders and shaky goalkeeping made it nearly impossible for the team to dominate their opponents. There were moments of quality against surprise qualifiers Finland, but little else.
Manager Stanislav Cherchesov started goalkeeper Anton Shunin in their opener against Belgium, but his poor performance led to the untested Matvei Safonov being used in subsequent matches. While the 22-year-old managed to shut out Finland, he was powerless against a rampaging Danish attack on Monday.
Russia have yet to recover from the retirement of keeper Igor Akinfeyev, who was key to their quarter-final run at the 2018 World Cup.
Things are hardly any better at the other end of the pitch, where Russia, who last reached the knockout stage of the Euros in 2008, rely on captain Artyom Dzyuba, a towering but clumsy forward whose aerial skills encourage midfielders to send in long balls in the often vain hope that he can do something with them.
But Dzyuba was scoreless in Russia’s first two matches, when he was marked diligently, and in Denmark’s 4-1 win on Monday night he scored his team’s only goal from the penalty spot – thereby equalling Alexander Kerzhakov’s national team record of 30 goals.
The rest of the side appeared to lack creativity and organisation up front, with the exception of a handful of skilful displays from Atalanta midfielder Alexei Miranchuk, one of the few Russians to play in a top European league.
While Russia can say they were unlucky to be in a group with Belgium, the world’s top side, they were nevertheless expected to perform better against Finland and Denmark.
Instead, with a lack of depth and relying too much on some ageing players, the Russians found they had too few resources to revitalize their tepid attack or bolster their backline when fatigue set in.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in St Petersburg; Editing by Hugh Lawson)