2018 FIFA World Cup™ hosts Russia made sure they would appear at two consecutive finals for the first time since the Russian national team was formed in 1992. It mathematically went down to the final match but in truth, qualification was assured in the Stade Josy Barthel on Friday with an emphatic victory over European Group F’s bottom side Luxembourg.
Fabio Capello has now guided a second side into a World Cup, after successfully reaching South Africa in 2010 with England. FIFA.com takes a look at the five key moments that saw the Italian steer Russia to the finals.
Don Fabio makes an entrance
One of the most important parts of Russia’s successful qualification campaign arguably came over three months before the first ball was kicked. A legendary manager at club level, Capello replaced Dick Advocaat in July 2012, having been at the Preliminary Draw in his previous role as England manager.
"After I had finished working in England, I was angry, and I wanted to continue working,” he said on his arrival. “I'll try to get my philosophy to match that which has brought the Russian national team success, and we will go to the World Cup in Brazil.”
The UEFA Champions League winning coach’s bold opening statement was to be proved correct.
Winning start to new era
Victor Faizulin grabbed the first competitive goal of the Capello era, after just half an hour in Moscow against Northern Ireland. They were facing a sturdy Green and White Army, also playing their first competitive match under a new manager; Michael O’Neill. The dominant 2-0 win was the tonic the Russian press and public needed after the country’s failure to qualify from the group stages of UEFA EURO 2012, without keeping a clean sheet in their three games at the tournament.
Kerzhakov outshines Cristiano
When the Preliminary Draw was made, it was expected that Portugal would lead European Group F, with Russia their main challengers. With six points, six goals and two clean sheets from their opening two matches, Russia were leading Portugal on goal difference at the top of the standings when Portugal came to the Luzhniki Stadium in October 2012.
Alexander Kerzhakov put the home side ahead after just six minutes, with the busy Roman Shirokov the architect - delivering a wonderful first-time ball which the Russia No11 lofted over the helpless Rui Patricio. That was to be the end of the goalscoring as Russia secured a famous victory and continued their 100 per cent record. It was hardly catenaccio from Capello though, as his side pushed for another goal and ended the match on the front foot.
Alexanders the greats
2013 started off as an unlucky year for Russia, with the side going almost an entire calendar year without a competitive victory. Portugal reciprocated Russia’s win by coming out 1-0 victors in Lisbon in June, while Northern Ireland completed a shock victory in Belfast, with their manager Michael O’Neill telling FIFA.com: “It’s always nice to beat one of the big nations.”
The biggest nation on the planet were seemingly on the ropes, and they welcomed minnows Luxembourg to Kazan in September with the country anxious about another potential shock. They needn’t have worried, as Alexander Kokorin opened the scoring in the first minute, before doubling their advantage ahead of the break. Alexanders Kerzhakov and Samedov completed the scoring as the whole of Russia breathed a sigh of relief.
Josy Barthel and Ben Basat
After that thumping of Luxembourg, the return match on Friday at Stade Josy Barthel seemed a formality. And so it was, with goals from Samedov, Faizulin, Denis Glushakov and Kerzhakov completing a simple victory in front of a sparse crowd in the tiny country.
However, it was events over 1200 miles away that had Russian fans jumping for joy and anticipating a first World Cup finals appearance for over a decade. Israel’s Eden Ben Basat equalised with five minutes remaining in Lisbon to condemn Cristiano Ronaldo’s side to a draw and all-but guarantee Russia an automatic ticket to Brazil.