Some sporting events are so special that everyone remembers where they were when they happened: the USSR hockey team winning the Super Series against Canada in 1974, Spain winning the World Cup for the first time, Russia’s last goal…
Russia have not scored for 352 minutes; the last celebration was in the beginning of an October Euro 2012 qualifier with Macedonia, when Alexander Kerzhakov scored early, and a penalty save from Igor Akinfeyev secured a 1-0 win.
Then Russia lost at home to Belgium (0-2), away to Iran (0-1) and were held to a goalless draw by Armenia in Yerevan.
The players are looking to end this in Tuesday’s friendly with 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar at the Al Sadd Stadium in Doha.
Chelsea midfielder Yury Zhirkov, pictured above against Slovakia last year – when Russia also failed to score – is hoping that Russia scores after five barren months.
“We can only promise that the game with Armenia will become our last game without goals. It is impossible to guarantee, but we will do our best,” Zhirkov told RIA Novosti.
Team under pressure
The game will mean a lot for Russia coach Dick Advocaat, who attracted a lot of criticism after recent results, but thought the draw with Armenia was OK.
Advocaat is concerned with the amount of unmerited “negativity that has been poured over the team after the game with Armenia” from the media.
The only result that would suit the public is a convincing win by more than one goal; there can be no excuses for the team still basking in the glow of Euro 2008 bronze medals when it plays against a side currently ranked 90th by FIFA.
“It is a winless situation for us: if we win, everyone will say that they only beat lowly Qatar, and if we, God forbid, lose, then I cannot even imagine what will begin,” Zhirkov complained.
“I do not understand how you could not love your national team and rub one’s hands when it fails?”
Advocaat has previously refused to call new faces to the side, even in friendlies (which are no time to experiment, according to the Dutch coach). Only two or three new faces have been added to the team that performed well in Euros three years ago.
This time he seems ready to test Lokomotiv midfielder Denis Glushakov, Spartak defender Yevgeny Makeyev and Zenit forward Alexei Ionov, hoping that some fresh blood will inject passion into Russia’s otherwise bland displays.
Den Haag forward Dmitry Bulykin, who has 15 Russia call-ups and may add a few more after 17 goals for the Dutch team in 24 games this season, thinks that “one of the main problems in the current team is the lack of healthy competition.”
Kerzhakov and Dzagoyev are out
But the last man to score for Russia, Kerzhakov, misses the match in Doha with a broken hand. The Zenit frontman is expected to be available again next week in time to return to club action, creating an unfortunate echo of players’ complaints that February’s trip to the Gulf was an unnecessary extra game.
CSKA midfielder Alan Dzagoyev also misses out with an ankle problem.
The game starts at 7.30 Moscow time and will be live on Rossiya 2.