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Russia

Euro 2016 hooliganism and the 2018 World Cup

Before the 2012 European Championship co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland, it was widely speculated that the quadrennial extravaganza would be marred by violence, hooliganism and racism owing to the fact that such disturbances continuously mar Eastern European football.

No such fears were expressed as France prepared to host the 2016 European Championship. However, the tournament has been shockingly used as an excuse by supporters of various teams to express their grievances and, at times, with absolute no reason other than to create a ruckus.

From the initial investigations it has come to light that Russian supporters have been the worst perpetrators. Their unwarranted and indiscriminate charging towards the England supporters during their opening game led to some horrific consequences as many of the Three Lions fans were grievously injured.

The havoc created by the Russian supporters led to UEFA handing them a suspended ban, meaning that any further violence from the Russian fans inside the stadiums will lead to their immediate disqualification from the tournament. It was perhaps the threat of expulsion which saw Russia’s second group game against Slovakia being played without any major mishap, even though the Russians finished on the losing side.

Nevertheless, what has been the most disturbing part of this whole situation is some of the comments that have come out from people in responsible positions in Russian football and politics.

Igor Lebedev, a member of the Russian Football Union executive committee and an MP of the Liberal Democratic party in Russia saw nothing wrong in the behaviour of the Russian hooligans, and quite despicably, even went on to praise them for their act.

“I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting. Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!”, Lebedev said.

“I don’t understand those politicians and officials who are criticising our fans. We should defend them, and then we can sort it out when they come home.

“What happened in Marseille and in other French towns is not the fault of fans, but about the inability of police to organise this kind of event properly.

“Our fans are far from the worst; it’s unclear why a lot of media are trying to say our fans’ actions were shameful. You should be objective. If there had been no provocation from English fans, it’s unlikely our fans would have got into fights in the stands”, he concluded.

Another Russian official went on to say that the French officials have become soft only handling LGBT pride parades and have no idea how to handle real men.

These happenings at the Euro 2016 will again bring the focus back on awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia. There has been widespread belief that it was a mistake to award football’s prestigious event to a country that has questionable human rights record and is continuously maligned for the way they treat their minorities.

Hooliganism and even racism in Russian stadiums have been far too common than other countries and it will be interesting to see if the authorities take any special measures to see that racist chanting, which led to CSKA Moscow playing a recent European fixture against Manchester City behind closed doors, do not take place.

However, with the way things are going and the fact that hooliganism from the Russian supporters appears to have state patronage, the clamour to shift the 2018 World Cup elsewhere is only going to get louder.

Will FIFA strip the hosting rights for the 2018 World Cup from Russia? Only time will tell.

2018 FIFA World Cup contenders – Russia

The erstwhile Soviet Union saw their best footballing years in the 1950s and 60s when they had some exceptionally talented players in the likes of Lev Yashin – still the only goalkeeper to have won the Ballon d’Or, Vsevolod Bobrov – not just football, but also a legendary bandy and ice hockey player, and Eduard Strelstov amongst others. The Soviet Union were a dominant force in those years and went on to win the gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne as well as the first ever European Championship in 1960 held in France.

The break-up of Soviet Union in 1991, meant that the talent of the Soviet Union was now spread across several different countries, diminishing the talent pool that Soviets had.

However, Russia are still producing talented players across all areas of the pitch, and they have successfully qualified for the European Championship due to be held in France this summer.

Russia will also play host to the 2018 World Cup and being hosts, they will be expected to have a good tournament. Russian football has gone through a bit of stasis in recent years as they failed to make the knockout stage of the World Cup in Brazil in the summer of 2014. They crashed out of the group stage at the 2012 European Championship after finishing behind the Czech Republic and Greece in the tournament co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland. Russia couldn’t even qualify for the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa.

In Brazil World Cup, the Russians failed to win any of their three games, drawing with South Korea and Algeria, and losing to Belgium to crash out tamely from the tournament. Their performances drew severe criticism back home, with many calling for Fabio Capello to be sacked from the helm.

The Italian held on, but was eventually relieved of his duties last year with CSKA Moscow boss Leonid Slutsky appointed at the helm. The Russian has managed to get his side to the Euros, but the side severely lacks any big names or assuring figures who can take the side to considerable heights in France this summer.

Russia still have over two years to get a strong side in place for the 2018 World Cup and do well in their home tournament.

CSKA Moscow goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is the undisputed number of the national team, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov and Aleksei Berezutski are veteran defenders ahead of him, but the fact that all of them will be above or near 35 means they cannot be the players to build the side around in two years’ time.

Alan Dzagoev, Denis Cheryshev, Artyom Dzyuba and Oleg Shatov are some of the recognizable faces in the squad, but Russia will need a lot more than them, or prove themselves of being more than the sum of their parts if they are to go far in their home World Cup in 2018.