International Friendly: Russia vs France – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
The Russians host the French as both managers seek improvements in the last match before they have to announce their squads for the World Cup
16:50 GMT, Tuesday 27th March, St. Petersburg Stadium (St Petersburg, Russia)
The World Cup hosts welcome the tournament favourites to St Petersburg on Tuesday evening. Both teams experienced defeat in their last outing, showing they have their own issues to address before the tournament starts.
Last time out
Russia 0-3 Brazil (International friendly)
The Russians may have been facing perennial powerhouses Brazil and may not have expected to come out victorious, but this loss marks a run of four games without a win, doing little to inspire a team facing a tricky group at the upcoming tournament.
They struggled to gain a foothold in the game and looked seriously off the pace. Aleksandr Samedov was the one Russian player who could make things happen, and he tried to ask questions of the Brazilian defence but his shot from outside the box was comfortably dealt with by the high-flying Alisson.
Forward Aleksei Miranchuk was presented with a wonderful chance minutes before half-time but he somehow blazed the ball over while standing only yards out. Had he scored, it might have changed the complexion of the game.
Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev made a string of good saves to keep the game goalless in the first half but the Brazilians overpowered the Russians in the second half. They tried to stay disciplined and take their chances when they came but instead folded to Brazilian pressure.
France 2-3 Colombia (International friendly)
For all their depth, France’s resurgence in recent years has been bugged by a lack of a killer instinct. This problem reared its ugly head once again as Les Bleus fell to a late penalty by Juan Fernando Quintero to lose a game they had been leading comfortably.
Kylian Mbappe’s early running epitomised France’s positivity, as young forward’s pace caused the South Americans numerous problems, including an assist for France’s second goal, the result of a blistering counter-attack.
Luis Muriel halved the deficit for the visitors but France should have had enough quality to reassert themselves in the second half. Instead, the Colombians gained ascendancy after the restart. Coach Didier Deschamps rang in the changes, but it wasn’t enough to stem the tide against the increasingly buoyant opposition.
The French were Euro 2016 finalists and will be one of the favourites in the summer but it remains to be seen whether they can withstand that pressure and live up to expectations, particularly if current problems persist.
As they are facing another big-team, expect coach Stanislav Cherchesov to continue keeping things conservative. He should keep faith with Miranchuk, hoping for him to find consistency as the World Cup is near.
Despite the talent available to him, Deschamps may not make as many changes as expected. He will want his charges to show more steel in this game and prove that they can be ruthless.
Key battle: Aleksandr Samedov (Russia) vs Lucas Hernandez (France)
If the Russians want to make anything happen, Samedov looks to be their likeliest outlet. With the likes of Mendy and Kurzawa on the outs, Hernandez could get a chance to start here. If he does and performs well, he could be a late contender for the final 23 that makes it on the plane to Russia.
Samedov doesn’t have the best goal record but for Russia to make a real impact in the summer, they need more players to step up, so they can prevent an overreliance on the likes of Dzagoev and Glushakov.
France has an embarrassment of riches in attacking positions but Deschamps is still rightfully concerned about star midfielder Paul Pogba. He tried but didn’t look at his best when coming on against Colombia.
Deschamps would have spent the past few days coaxing Pogba, hoping to get him in the right frame of mind for the World Cup. A strong performance by Pogba in this game would encourage the French, who will need him to drive the team forward from midfield.
Russians’ defence-first approach
When the tournament starts and the team is backed by the fanatical home support, the Russians might turn into a different animal but the Russians have mostly underwhelmed in recent games, save for the odd solid performance.
Cherchesov’s aim has been to make his team difficult to beat but as a matter of pride, the Russian supporters might expect more from their players. If they can gain a positive result from this game, much like they did against the Spaniards last year, they might build optimism before the final squads are decided.
France’s squad chemistry
It’s not a good sign that with only 3 months remaining before the start of the World Cup, Deschamps cannot be said to be confident in his strongest 11. Despite some effort the manager, his key players are not at their best for a variety of reasons, from a lack of form, club problems to not being stifled in the current system and even a lack of fighting spirit.
It seems like unless he can solve the puzzles, Deschamps best hope is in putting forward what he thinks is his best team, and hope that all focus and work together to get a result.
Prediction: France 2-0 Russia
The Russians are facing another quality side and are a solid team and the weather might even be a factor in their favour. However, despite the lack of leadership and fight, the French still have far too much quality in their ranks to not come away with a win.