Putin wants warriors, Russia needs a winning start. Confed Cup kicks off

By Samindra Kunti in St Petersburg

June 17 – Russia and New Zealand open the 2017 Confederations Cup, the warm-up tournament for the World Cup in 2018. It is also a gauge of where are Russia on the playing side with an expectant country putting pressure on coach Stanislav Cherchesov to deliver on home soil. Germany, Portugal and Chile begin the tournament as favorites. 

Cherchesov gained his coaching credentials with a double win in Poland, but he is hanging on to his job with the Russian national team who have struggled to find coaching consistency after the debacle around Fabio Capello. The absence of Alan Dzagoev, Russia’s main creative threat going forward, further complicates Cherchesov’s task.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has put his weight behind the team, but offered a warning. “Fans and those who love Russian football expect better results from our national team,” said Putin ahead of the opening game. He wants the team to perform like ‘real warriors’ at the Confederations Cup.

But that peptalk may well be in vain. Russia have also been paired with European champions Portugal and Mexico in Group A, two teams with significant pedigree and better squads. Cristiano Ronaldo will lead Portugal, who possess a fine mix of youngsters and veterans, and benefit from the guidance of the savvy Fernando Santos.

His team will seek to challenge defending world champions Germany and South American champions Chile for the title in Russia. Joachim Low, who has repeatedly criticised the tournament’s staging, has left many of his first choice players at home. But the pool of talent at his disposal is still very impressive with Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Julian Draxler and Liverpool midfielder Emre Can in the squad. Germany play their opening match against Australia on Monday.

Chile tamed Lionel Messi in two Copa America finals and have evolved well under coach Juan Antonio Pizzi. They are a high press and high energy team with Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez in a leading role. In their opener the Chileans meet African champions Cameroon, who return to this competition for the first time since 2003 when Marc Vivian Foe tragically collapsed against Colombia in the semi-final and died.

The Indomitable Lions have the second youngest squad in the tournament with an average age of 25 years and seven months.They are rank outsiders.

The tournament will culminate with the final on July 2 at Saint Petersburg’s Kretovsky Stadium, the venue for the opening match.

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