Russia will host Oceanian champions New Zealand in the first game of the 2017 Confederations Cup on Saturday. The 2018 World Cup hosts come with a much-inexperienced squad with 14 of their 23-man squad having made 10 or fewer appearances. Meanwhile, the All Whites are hoping to taste their first victory in the showpiece event, and they will have high hopes on skipper Chris Wood with talismanic captain and defender Winston Reid in the physio room.
Both Russia and New Zealand have a tough task on their hands to get through Group A with Portugal and Mexico more than capable of holding their own on their day. The All Whites are unlikely to have high expectations in the tournament, but a victory over Russia would prove a huge achievement for a squad, who do not have strong opposition in their continental qualification. Australia were probably the strongest competitors, but they have since moved on to the Asian qualifiers, where they lifted their first Asian Cup by beating South Korea in 2015.
On the other hand, Russia are due to play a three-at-the-back defence during the Confederations Cup with manager Stanislav Cherchesov confident of coming up triumphs with a young squad, which has reveled in the Russian Premier League. All players from the squad are located in Russia, when compared to some well-travelled players in New Zealand, but the potential is there for the nation to watch.
Russia will be captained by experienced shot-stopper Igor Akinfeev while they will also have valuable midfield experience from Yuri Zhirkov and Denis Glushakov under the injury absence of key playmaker Alan Dragoev. Aleksandr Golovin could be a player to watch for in the Russian setup with Premier League club Arsenal apparently expressing an interest in his signature. The forward ranks of Russia have also been dented by the unavailability of Artyom Dzyuba, and this could see Fyodor Smolov lead the line against the world’s elite.
Russia are by far the superior side in terms of FIFA rankings 62 compared to All Whites’ 95, but the real difference could be shown on the playing field if the hosts score early.
Russia 3 – 0 New Zealand
Image – RT