From Russia without love
If European footballers were to be asked about the away venue they would least like to play at, Russia would probably top the list. ‘A tough place to go’ is about the size of the cliché, with both clubs and national teams wary of the distance, temperatures and the teams that thrive on home soil.
Germany therefore have a tough assignment in their crucial World Cup qualifier in Moscow on Saturday. Luckily for them a draw, usually considered the extent of travelling teams’ aspirations, would represent a good result, providing of course, that they beat Finland in the final match of their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Is this reputation of Russian infallibility at home deserved? It has partly been acquired in unison with a reputation for being poor travellers themselves, as the factors go hand-in-hand. The long trips away, often in close season, do not suit Russian teams. Nonetheless, the national team’s home record is an impressive one.
Russia have won 19 of their 26 home major qualification matches since the turn of the century, drawing seven times and losing none. They have scored 61 goals in that time, conceding just 12. They have failed to score on only three occasions.
It should be noted that they have hosted few of Europe’s elite teams in that time – goalless draws against Portugal and Croatia and a 2-1 win against England apart – but it is still a record to fear.
The unfamiliarity of a trip to Russia has been increased by the fact matches are often played on the artificial turf of the Luzhniki Stadium. The Germans know they have a tough task ahead of them and that, like all other teams, a point would be a successful return.