CSKA Moscow v Saturn
Saturday 10th July
'Eyebrows were raised' when ESPN announced they would be showing the Russian Premier League when the channel hit our screens replacing the collapsed Setanta. When I say 'eyebrows were raised' I mean a series of txt messages were exchanged between myself and great mate Shoegl about the possibility of 'bloke in the pub' enthusiastically adopting Spartak Nalchik as his team, kids running around in Amkar Perm kits and a street being named after legendary Rubin Kazan manager Kurban Berdyev. To my knowledge the screening of these games hasn’t quite had this effect on the British sporting public as yet so with that in mind we that thought that a bit of DTVSr exposure might give it a push in the right direction.
As often happens with ESPN's foreign games the coverage started with the players lining up in the tunnel and commentator Martin Hyndley welcomed us to the afternoon's action from the Khimki Stadium. Immediately confusion set-in as I recognised this as Dinamo Moscow's stadium. Further research indicated that I was sort of correct in that Dinamo play there but it isn't their stadium neither as both they and this afternoon's hosts are temporary residents, CSKA having recently moved from the vast Luzhniki arena (of which they were also tenants.) Now I know what you’re thinking here, you’re thinking: ‘Dave, if I’d have wanted the lowdown on stadiums in Moscow I would’ve clicked onto ‘Dave’sStadiumsofRussiaReview’ so just get on with bloody action will you?’ And if you were thinking that the answer is ‘yes, yes I will.’
Before this first game following the summer break the players lined up on the pitch for what I'm sure was the Russian national anthem. Many of the crowd sang along with the players largely taking the ‘Spanish approach' (that was a three-week old dig at Clive Tyldesley by the way...you already knew that though.) With the formalities over the action was about to begin and commentator Hyndley told us that Saturn, who sat bottom of the table had only won one game prior to the break (against Lokomotiv Moscow.) CSKA (pronounced 'seska' rather than C S K A) in second spot were expected to win this sort-of derby and make up ground on top of the table Zenit St.Petersburg.
The main team news centred around the omission of CSKA's World Cup players in the form of Japan winger Keisuke Honda, Chilean winger Mark González and Serbian striker Miloš Krasić although the latter two did feature on the bench. The game kicked of and as I often seem to do was just noting that nothing had happened when 7 minutes in Saturn (or 'Saturn Moscow Region' as a graphic often referred to them) took a surprise lead with an absolute belter. Lone striker Dmitri Kirichenko volleyed on the turn into the keeper’s top left-hand corner from the edge of the box. Kirichenko naturally celebrated this fantastic strike but to my dismay they're didn't appear to be any visiting fans for him to celebrate with. "Do we have a shock on our hands here?" Asked Hyndley. Read on (or alternatively consult the interweb) and find out!
A short while after this I required my umpteenth visit to the toilet for the day following the previous night's ale-consumption and asked Mrs.DTVSr to “let me know if owt happens?” As a result it brings me great pleasure to inform you that on approximately 16 minutes 'the red and blues had a shot on goal but he saved it.' The very same 'red and blues' (CSKA) were now posing more of a threat than they had at any point previously and equalised on 27 minutes. The goal came from an overwhelmingly weak and badly executed shot from midfielder Alan Dzagoev which despite being low somehow went over Antonin Kinsky in the Saturn net. In fairness to the keeper the ball did appear to 'move' a bit and would have undoubtedly been placed in the category marked 'Jabulani' had it been at the World Cup.
As had happened throughout the opening 30 minutes, the commentator's knowledge and enthusiasm for the Russian game continued to impress me no-end. Naturally I drew the comparison with the appalling levels we were subject to in the World Cup whereby Lee Dixon famously admitted to 'not knowing too much' about two teams he was being paid to offer 'expert' analysis on. Not only did Hyndley seemingly know the background to every player on the pitch he even went so far as to mention bits of trivia such as the scorers in the previous day’s youth-team fixture between the two clubs. Is it really considered a better option to employ Alan Green who'll give the impression he's suffering some hardship by being made to watch Brazil v Portugal (at the World Cup Finals FFS!) than someone who not only can give insight to a players form, career history and strengths but actually gives the impression they want us to enjoy it as well?
Anyway, after 36 minutes Saturn re-took a shock lead with a header from their previous scorer Kirichenko. Well they would've re-took their shock lead had it not incorrectly been ruled out for offside. This prompted angry gesticulations from their manager Andrei Gordeev who if he added a few pounds would look exactly like a stereotypical Eastern European Gymnastics coach. He carried on his tirade of displeasure directed at the referee and officials all the way up to half time of which little of note happened bar a text-book modern case of “handbags.” Lyndley then told us that this was nothing in comparison to the brawl that marred the 2004 meeting between the two clubs and having discovered the x-rated film I can confirm that predictably he was correct (Disclaimer: Anyone under the age of 18 must get permission before watching this) CSKA V Saturn 2004 Scrap .
The ‘steadily improving Armyestas’ put pressure on the ‘Aliens’ (I’ll leave it up to you to deduce which nickname belongs to whom) from the beginning of the second half which resulted in one of those all too often occurrences of a shot hitting the advertising hoardings and re-bounding into the netting leading to many in the stadium believing a goal has been scored. Fortunately as this wasn’t an English game (and of equal relevance, there didn’t appear to be any there….although I’ve since seen a picture that shows me there were some and numbered around 100) the opposition fans didn’t break into a collective ‘aaarrrrrrgghhh’ then start chanting ‘Who are ya? Who are ya?’ at the mistakenly celebratory CSKA masses.
A disappointing crowd development at this point was the noticeable racist abuse Saturn’s Benois Angbwa received on a couple of occasions from the previously excellent CSKA fans. Credit again should go to Hyndley who rightfully deemed it worthy of a mention but didn’t go into an all-out righteous rant about Eastern Europe’s racism in football problem that the likes of Green or Jonathon Pearce undoubtedly would.
Around an hour in and the home side brought on their returning World Cup ‘stars’ González and Krasić and continued to take the game to Saturn, forcing a goal line clearance from a close-range header at a corner. The two subs were in the thick of the action and Krasić had a very optimistic penalty shout where upon the replay, Hyndley diplomatically informed us he’s ‘no stranger to the theatrical side of the game.’ As CSKA pushed forward to get the anticipated three points, they naturally left gaps at the back and on a couple of occasions Saturn broke and save for some poor execution and indecision would’ve had a couple of clear chances in which to nick the game themselves.
Despite both teams efforts and an entertaining end to the game neither side could find the illusive second goal much to the displeasure of the CSKA fans and coach, Leonid Slutsky who I’d describe as looking like a more extreme version of David Platt.
An enjoyable return to national rather than international football viewing for me, helped in no small part by the intrigue factor of a league I’ve not watched much of and a commentator who accurately describes the action and informs me of interesting things I didn’t know. I’ll be watching the Russian action on ESPN again and may even find myself enthusiastically discussing the fortunes of Spartak Nalchik over a pint with one of their legions of British followers my fantasy world created a year or so ago.
Russian Premier League Review - ESPN
Tuesday 13th July 20.00
Thursday 15th July 19.00
Weekend fixtures TBC