The winter months had brought numerous dramatic changes to the composition of Russia’s top flight – as an 18 month calendar came into effect, FK Krasnodar replaced the bankrupt Saturn Moscow Oblast and the new found spending power of Terek Grozny and Anzhi Makhachkala saw the likes of Ruud Gullit and Roberto Carlos join the league on extravagant contracts. So as the roller coaster ride of a winter begins to edge to its end the main stories can now begin to revolve around the football on the pitch – as opposed to the unexpected happenings off it.
Makhachkala bore witness to the first kick of a football in the 2011/12 Russian season as Anzhi hosted league newcomers FK Krasnodar – in a match that was truly a battle of the ‘nouveau riche’. But despite the spectacle that the match hoped to be it ultimately fell into the realm of disappointment as neither team managed to find the back of the net resulting in a goalless draw. Amongst the ambitious long range efforts – with Roberto Carlos attempting an audacious 35 yard screamer which trickled through to Krasnodar keepers Evgeniy Gorodov – came Vladimir Tatarchuk’s side footed effort from ten yards out which unfortunately lacked the direction to trouble Anzhi’s Nukri Revishvili.
Spartak Nalchik’s match against Krylya Sovetov threatened to provide two goalless draws on the opening day of the season as the game headed into the final minute with neither side having found the back of the net. But as Nalchik’s substitute Igor Portnyagin cleverly turned Ivan Taranov on the right flank and burst into the box Krylya’s full back made a desperate lunge to prevent Portnyagin becoming a last ditch hero – but Taranov’s flailing legs never looked like coming close to the ball and instead brought Portnyagin sprawling to the ground. Leandro’s resulting penalty gave Spartak Nalchik the three points and gave Vladimir Eshtrekov a winning start to his career in the post Yuri Krasnozhan era.
Arguably the most enticing fixture on the opening day involved Lokomotiv Moscow against their city rivals Dynamo. Lokomotiv now under the guidance of new coach Yuri Krasnozhan and without the attacking talents of Oleksandr Aliyev – who rejoined former club Dynamo Kyiv – are an entirely new entity. While Dynamo have splashed the cash on Galatasaray playmaker Zvjezdan Misimović – who many feel is the final part of the club’s long standing puzzle as to how to become a true force in the modern era of Russian football. Lokomotiv made light work of the early exchanges as Ján Ďurica made the most of some slack marking to score on 4 minutes and give the home side the initiative. Yet even more defensive disorganisation resulted in Lokomotiv extending their lead just after half time as Dmitiri Loskov’s floated free kick saw three Dynamo defenders attempt to clear the ball to no avail before Taras Burlak finished smartly past Anton Shunin. Dmitri Torbinski’s deflected finish – on the hour mark – following the excellent strength, pace and vision from Dmitriy Sychev compounded Dynamo’s misery and it looked as though Lokomotiv could dispel the hype surrounding Dynamo’s exciting squad. However Kevin Kuranyi’s side footed finish from Misimovic’s exquisite lofted through ball and Alexandr Samedov latching onto Igor Semhov’s cross saw an exciting game finish 3-2.
Last season’s First Division champions Kuban Krasnodar saw their season kick off with a difficult home fixture against Rubin Kazan – a team who many had written off before the season had even begun. Kuban coach Dan Petrescu had seen his team receive a great deal of pre season hype as they looked to banish their unwanted tag as being the perennial ‘yo yo club’ of Russian football. Despite Rubin’s deficiencies at the top end of the pitch – with goals a real concern for coach Kurban Berdyev – the visitors managed to roll out comfortable 2-0 winners as Alan Kasaev wonderfully composed lofted finish left Kuban’s keeper Aleksandr Budakov flummoxed and sent Rubin on their way to the much needed 3 points. Christian Noboa’s goal from the penalty spot – as a result of Aleksey Koslov’s clumsy challenge on Vladimir Dyadyun – left Petrescu with more questions than answers for Kuban.
The heavily backed CSKA Moscow took to the field against Amkar Perm – who are possibly just happy to remain in the top flight following a winter of financial uncertainty – knowing that a strong start to the campaign would be necessary if the Premier League title is to finally return to Moscow. Sergei Ignashevic’s unlikely brace left Amkar’s hopes of an upset in tatters as a composed finish from the penalty spot just before the half time whistle as well as a towering header from Zoran Tosic’s corner mere minutes into the second half meant that Leonid Slutsky’s men came through against a spirited Amkar side. Amkar can take something from the match however as they look to show that the club is here to stay in the Premier League despite the struggles of the winter months.
Reigning champions Zenit St Petersburg visited Ruud Gullit’s Terek Grozny in a match that proved far less ‘sexy’ than Gullit would like to believe. Danko Lazovic’s simple finish from Danny’s pass across the six yard box on 14 minutes ultimately ensured Zenit never really had to get out of first gear – however Terek’s poor display will leave many wondering whether the expensive signature of Gullit will actually be a worthwhile investment. Much criticism has been aimed at the Dutch coach since the final whistle with an overwhelming feeling that the style of the team’s play has regressed to a slow and laborious approach. For Luciano Spalletti however it is a welcome return to the domestic season – particularly following the club’s calamitous result against Twente in the Europa League – and while not a scintillating performance Zenit have got the much needed 3 points.
Volga Nizhny Novgorod may be newcomers to the Premier League following their promotion from the First Division but if people were thinking of taking them lightly then there may be a few reconsiderations to be made. Volga’s fixture against Tom Tomsk was over as soon as it began as their prolific forward Otar Martsvaladze’s deflected shot fired past Botvinyev on 5 minutes while 10 minutes later Sergei Bendz header sent Volga’s fans into raptures. Tom Tomsk had little in reply as they struggled to gain any control in the match until well into the second half when Volga were quite content to sit back on their two goal cushion. Volga’s high tempo style of play with rapid transitions from defense to attack may well make them a surprise package over the coming months.
The shock result of the opening round of fixtures came in Rostov as the home side entertained Spartak Moscow in a match that few would have anticipated. Roman Adamov opened the scoring for Rostov with a header from a corner that ultimately came about due to his missed penalty which was saved by Andrey Dikan. The goal visibly unsettled Spartak who were unable to control the midfield and dictate the play – without the likes of Alex and Aiden McGeady Spartak at times looked like a team without any sort of direction. Adamov’s second came just minutes after half time before Dragan Blatnjak’s thunderous strike seemed to pass through the dive of Dikan – who should have got something behind the shot. Needless to say Spartak were stunned and their misery became even worse as Timofey Kalachev drilled an effort into the left hand corner past Dikan who remained rooted to the spot. The result leaves Spartak bottom of the table – and their title aspirations seem a completely laughable notion.