Russia opened their 2017 Confederations Cup campaign with a comfortable 2-0 victory over New Zealand in St Petersburg.
The curtain-raiser for the 2018 World Cup failed to reach expectations, with a subdued atmosphere and a sheer divide regarding the quality of both teams. Russia dominated during the 90 minutes in St Petersburg and exploited New Zealand’s struggling defence.
It took 31 minutes for the hosts to inevitably take the lead when New Zealand defender Michael Boxall helped Denis Glushakov’s effort into his own net. Smolov clinched a comfortable victory for the Russians, by concluding a clinical counter-attacking move with the simplest of finishes from close-range in the second half.
New Zealand struggled to probe a dangerous threat on the Russian’s goal until the closing stages of the second half. However, it proved too late for the Kiwis, who were comfortably beaten by the 2018 World Cup hosts.
The use of Video Technology also created another debate for players, coaches, pundits and supporters to quarrel over. Russia were denied a penalty inside the opening 15 minutes, despite forward Poloz being blatantly tripped by New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic inside the penalty area.
Russia showed very promising signs in their opening game, despite the lack of quality from their opponents. They played with precision and intricacy in possession, exploited New Zealand on the counter-attack and threatened with the attacking partnership of Dmitry Poloz and Fyodor Smolov.
The hosts currently top Group A following this afternoon’s victory but Euro 2016 winners Portugal are set to face Mexico on Sunday. Russia face two tough tests against Portugal and Mexico respectively in their two remaining group matches. Whereas, New Zealand are likely to be playing for pride against in their next two matches.
Promising Signs for Russia
Russia played against limited opposition, which makes it difficult to judge Russia’s recent progress. However, they dominated proceedings and completely destructed New Zealand’s vulnerable defence.
Firstly, a dangerous attacking partnership between Poloz and Smolov is currently emerging. The Russian duo continuously made attacking runs in between and in behind New Zealand’s defence, which created problems for the kiwis.
For the second goal, Smolov started the attacking move by spreading the ball out wide to Samedov. The Spartak Moscow veteran squared the ball across the six-yard box to Smolov to also round off the move.
Russia’s defence advanced from the back and added to the attacking threat proposed against New Zealand. Dzhikya and Vasin both had opportunities in the final third and the team looked uncontrollable for New Zealand.
New Zealand Squander Hopes of Causing a Shock in Russia
The performance from the kiwis was truly horrific, both defensively and offensively, as they were completely dominated by Russia. On paper, this afternoon’s fixture seemed to be the likeliest opportunity for them to pick up points in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
They failed to deliver and were duly punished by the Russians, who were unfortunate not to win the game by a larger margin. New Zealand played with a back-three, which was continuously exploited by counter-attacking moves from Russia.
Their defensive frailties were illustrated best during the build-up to Russia’s second and last goal of the match. They defended in a compact manor, completely abandoning the flanks, which were utilized as an attacking outlet by the opposition.
Smolov spread the ball out wide to Samedov, who was gifted with too much space, due to New Zealand defending too narrow. They also failed to man mark inside the penalty area and Smolov was left unmarked to convert from close range.
New Zealand also failed to track Russia’s defenders, who continued to advance forward and create more defensive problems. Wood was very poor, he failed to thrive on his aggressive manor and was very ineffective.
The brightest spell for New Zealand came in the closing stages of the match but it was too late for them to preserve any pride. Thomas struck from range, which forced an impressive save from Akinfeev and Tommy Smith had his header cleared off the line at the far post by Zhirkov.