The 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup will kick-off with hosts Russia welcoming New Zealand to the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg on Saturday

Russian football has been in a transition period after a poor show during the Euro 2016 in France. New coach Stanislav Cherchesov is focusing on building a team for the World Cup in 2018, which led to the omission of several veteran players like the Berezutski twin brothers, Artem Dzyuba, Alan Dzagoev and Roman Neustadter.

The Russians will come into this game after a 1-1 draw against Chile, which helped them maintain their unbeaten run in three games. They have improved from their Euro 2016 massacre which is evident from their games like the 3-3 draw against Belgium back in March. They also defeated Hungary 3-0 in a friendly warm-up game recently.

New Zealand, on the other hand, have the ideal opportunity to test their forces against some of the biggest teams in the world. They are managed by English-born coach Anthony Hudson, and did fall off the mark in their recent friendlies after losing to Northern Ireland and Belarus by a 1-0 margin.

They also have a poor record at the Confederations Cup after failing to register a win in their previous three appearances. In previous editions, they lost eight of their nine games in the competition scored just two goals, but will be looking to change things around this time.

Team News and Tactics

Russia

Russia have brought their strongest possible squad to this tournament, with long term goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev captaining the side and left-sided midfielder Yuri Zhirkov taking up a key role in the midfield. Denis Glushakov and Aleksandr Samedov will be other key figures in midfield, whilst Fyodor Smolov will lead the line upfront.

Cherchesov has no injury concerns and is likely to employ a 3-5-2 formation rather than the 5-3-2 set-up deployed in the friendly against Chile.

The Russians should be confident enough about their chances against New Zealand in the curtain-raising match. They will face a relatively weak side with the only big names being Leeds United’s Chris Wood, Marseille’s Bill Tiloma, and Sunderland defender Sam Brotherton.

Their squad does seem stronger than New Zealand’s and they have a solid back line as well which can help to limit New Zealand’s chances. Considering their opponents are likely to set up defensively, Russia will avoid playing a back five again and deploy a second striker instead to create maximum impact.

Cherchesov’s men will be aware of the fact that this is the best chance for redemption ahead of the big stage during next year’s World Cup, and will push for a fairly easy victory against New Zealand.

Probable lineup (3-5-2): Akinfeev, Kudryashov, Vasin, Shishkin, Kombarov, Glushakov, Golovin, Gazinsky, Samedov, Smolov, Poloz.

New Zealand

The New Zealand squad will be without West Ham defender Winston Reid since he picked up an injury, meaning their back line will not have any strong experienced players to rely upon.

The team looks weak even in other departments of the field, and Chris Wood will have to lift majority of the team’s responsibility. The 25-year old did enjoy a good season with his club wherein he scored 27 goals from 44 Championship games. Melbourne Victory play-maker Marco Rojas can also cause trouble for the Russians.

New Zealand’s warm up friendly on Monday saw them lose 1-0 at Belarus, after an identical scoreline against Northern Ireland to make it three wins, two draws, and three defeats in their last seven matches. Considering the majority of the opposition, which included Fiji and New Caledonia, the Kiwis will face a huge test against Russia.

New Zealand haven’t scored in thee of their last five matches and they’re up against a Russian side that managed to maintain clean sheets against Ghana, Romania, Turkey, and Hungary since last summer.

Chris Wood will be a key player for the Kiwis and if they keep the match close with their defensive play and earn set pieces, they have might just have a strong trump card.  He’s a good header of the ball and is also known to be a solid finisher. If the Russians succumb to New Zealand’s defence then Wood can capitalize to send the Kiwis ahead.

Probable lineup (5-3-2): Marinovic, Colvey, Boxall, Durante, Tzimopoulos, Wynne, McGlinchey, Rojas, Thomas, Smeltz, Wood

Key Stats

  • The opening match in Saint Petersburg will be the first time the two countries play against each other.
  • Russia have never before played in the Confederations Cup.
  • New Zealand have 16 players who play abroad, Russia have zero.

Prediction

Russia 2-1 New Zealand

The most likely outcome is a victory for Russia since New Zealand were seen struggling to find the back of the net in the recent two friendly matches they played early in the month. Russia are likely to be lethal at home, especially with a squad full of players looking to make a mark. The Kiwis’ dismal record might also take a toll on their confidence.

Also, Russia have many more players experienced with European football.  They have put up strong attacking performances recently, while New Zealand haven’t been able to stand tall against their opponents. Hence, Russia are likely to enjoy a victory over a stubborn defensive-minded opponent.