Russians dreaming of 2018

While Russia’s main focus will be securing three points and making a strong start to the tournament as they begin their FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015 campaign, the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ will also cast a long shadow over proceedings. After all, what young player has not dreamed of playing at a home World Cup?

Although these starlets would be forgiven for thinking that impressive performances at this level of the international stage would surely help them fulfil their 2018 dreams, these thoughts are far from the mind of coach Mikhail Galaktionov. His main concern is to deliver good results at this month’s tournament in South America. “Although there’s no doubt we have talented players in our team,” said the 31-year-old in an interview with FIFA.com, “they will have to establish themselves at their clubs and become a permanent fixture within their squads to really have a chance of playing at the 2018 World Cup, and gaining international experience is also very important in that regard,” he continued, warning against unrealistic expectations for his young charges.

The defensive trump card “We hope the restrictions on overseas players in the Russian Premier League will give our young players an opportunity to prove themselves at a high level,” he continued, “but it depends on each individual. We’re especially glad that several members of our squad have already gained valuable playing time for their clubs’ U-21 teams.”

In South America the Sbornaja are planning to adopt the same robust defensive approach that proved so effective in European qualification, where they conceded just six goals in 11 matches on the road to Chile. “The lads fight for each other and are proud to play for their country,” enthused Galaktionov, adding confidently: “Russia is a strong footballing nation and we trust in our strengths. Our first goal is to reach the next round.”

Awaiting them in Group E are three interesting opponents with different playing styles - Costa Rica, Korea DPR and debutants South Africa. “We’re looking forward to stepping onto this great footballing stage once again,” said the coach. “It’s a huge experience and a vital step in the players’ development.”

An unrivalled record Despite the Soviet Union’s 1987 triumph in the FIFA U-16 World Championship, predecessor to today’s FIFA U-17 World Cup, the Russians’ record in this competition has been rather modest overall. They exited the tournament in the Round of 16 two years ago after a 3-1 defeat by Brazil, having qualified for the knockout stages in the UAE as one of the best third-placed teams with three points, their defensive prowess already apparent.

While Galaktionov can expect his side to get more out of the experience this time around as they heed the motto that “attacking wins matches, defending wins trophies”, defence was in no way the centrepiece of their predecessors’ triumphant campaign 28 years ago. The Sbornaja conceded seven goals in six games in Canada that year but found the target 21 times, achieving a goals-per-game record of 3.5 that remains unbeaten to this day.

The truth lies on the pitch This year Zenit St Petersburg’s Egor Denisov is the man expected to boost his country’s scoring tally, having already made his mark at continental level. His performance in Russia’s UEFA European U-17 Championship semi-final defeat by Germany prompted opposition coach Christian Wuck to proclaim him a “top-quality international striker”.

With compact formations, physical presence and the ability to take advantage of quick counterattacking opportunities, Galaktionov seems to have hit upon a promising formula for his team’s success. The Russians will face their first real test against Asian champions Korea DPR on Monday, with the North Koreans having scored 12 times in six matches at the AFC U-16 Championship on their way to these finals. At that point the time for words and planning will be over and, as the saying goes, “the truth will lie on the pitch.”