With the final draw going better than I expected, here is a team-by-team breakdown. You can think of it as a “32 teams in 32 days” thing, except it’ll take me longer than that. I thought about doing it alphabetically, but I’ve decided to do it by the seeding, starting with the hosts and working through each group. In the case of certain countries, such as Russia or Serbia, I’ll go by their old FIFA names, like USSR or Yugoslavia, or whatever.
Our first team is the host and lowest-ranked country, Russia.
Photo courtesy of Ultimate Flags.
Team Nickname: Sbornaya (The National Team)
Total Appearances (including 2018): 11
Best finish: Fourth place, 1966
Current manager: Stanislav Cherchesov
Caps leader: Sergei Ignashevich (130)
Leading scorer(s): Aleksandr Kerzhakov (30)
Date of Qualification: December 2, 2010
FIFA ranking at tournament draw: 65
June 14 vs. Saudi Arabia – Moscow (Luzhniki)
June 19 vs. Egypt – Saint Petersburg
June 25 vs. Uruguay – Samara
Russia comes in officially as the lowest-ranked team in the field. But this is a deceptive number, because having already secured qualification for seven years, they only had to play friendlies, which aren’t weighted as heavily. And whether or not FIFA had something to do with it, they were gifted a much easier draw than expected. When combined as the former Soviet Union, they finished fourth in 1966, under the direction of superb goalkeeper Lev Yashin. This year, the hosts aren’t really favored to do much, largely because of who they’d be playing in the round of 16, assuming they make it out – a resurgent Morocco team could give them fits, but ultimately, Portugal and Spain have to be the favorites coming out of Group B. And in their own group, Russia would probably play second fiddle to Uruguay. At the same time, it could have been a lot worse – they get Saudi Arabia in the opening match, the two lowest seeds in the tournament playing first. While they lack superstars, keep an eye out for Aleksandr Kokorin to lead them into battle.
Given a better draw than most expected – and perhaps hoped for – Russia now controls their own destiny. I don’t know how high their expectations were coming in, but I think they’ve just been raised. Most have them in the round of sixteen at best, and I think that’s about right. It’s not impossible for them to get past that stage, but I think their potential competition is just too loaded after the group stage, from Spain, Portugal, and perhaps France waiting for them. All three of those teams have reasonably high expectations in this tournament, so don’t expect them to do the hosts any favors.
Aleksandr Kokorin. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
The jersey logo/crest. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.