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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

CSKA Moscow's capitulation does not bode well for Russia's World Cup hopes

Golovin the only hope for hosts

CSKA Moscow and Russian midfielder Aleksandr Golovin
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Expectations are low regarding Russia's attempts to have a successful World Cup and CSKA Moscow's international contingent did little to alter that view in a 4-1 hammering at Arsenal.

The Europa League quarter-final first leg featured three players - Igor Akinfeev, Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Golovin - who are likely to start for Russia this summer.

Russian skipper Igor Akinfeev’s performance was far from impressive, but the 31-year-old goalkeeper was not helped by some abject CSKA defending and sublime Arsenal finishing.

Akinfeev's positioning was generally convincing at set-pieces but he was not vocal enough in organising the defence in front of him. Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty was well-placed but Akinfeev made it easier for the home striker by committing himself too early.

Midfielder Alan Dzagoev, meanwhile, looked a shadow of the man who finished joint-top scorer at Euro 2012. Once dubbed one of Russia’s most promising talents, it is fair to say the 27-year-old has suffered since switching to a deeper role for club and country.

Dzagoev looked most comfortable trying to locate space in the final third, where he even managed to find the net with his head, only for it to be ruled out for offside.

Perhaps accustomed to slower build-up play in Russia’s top flight, the midfielder could not keep up with Arsenal’s pace, often lunging in with late challenges and leaving far too much space between the defence and midfield for the Gunners to exploit.

The only glimmer of hope for CSKA and Russian fans came from the performance of 21-year-old Aleksandr Golovin. Much of Russia's hopes this summer rest on the shoulders of their poster boy and he did not disappoint.

His range of passing was superb, dropping deep to collect and recycle short balls and picking forwards out with pin-point long passes.

Golovin’s speed on the turn was problematic for Arsenal’s midfielders at times and his delectable free kick to level the scores showed he plays with the contagious confidence of a player ahead of his years.

With stronger players around him, Golovin could have capitalised more on Arsenal’s high line and this may well be the story in the World Cup.

Golovin’s good, but not good enough on his own to carry Russia far in the competition.

Alan Dzagoev looked a shadow of the man who finished joint-top scorer at Euro 2012
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