Zvezda Return From Covid Hiatus as Zenit’s Struggles Continue

After some cup action that saw three of the current top four advance to the semifinals (with the match between Yenisey and Zvezda yet to be played), the Superliga returned with an abbreviated matchday ten. This weekend, there were no COVID-related postponements, but CSKA and Yenisey were given a week off, having already played their round ten fixture prior to the international break – a convincing 3-0 win for CSKA. Let’s recap the action.

Zvezda-2005 finally returned to the pitch after seeing two of their games canceled because of a Coronavirus outbreak in their squad; the Perm outfit hosted a Zenit side desperate for points.

However, those points were nowhere to be found for the visitors. Zvezda showed no hints of rustiness and they were straight in Zenit’s faces from the first whistle. Olesya Kurochkina picked up right where she left off before the enforced break, putting Zvezda on the scoreboard in the 33rd minute with an accomplished finish. Even the return of defensive stalwart Lyudmila Shadrina from suspension could not prevent the clinical veteran from scoring her eighth goal of the season.

Zenit showed some improvement in the second half, but a spectacular long-range strike from Ekaterina Pantyukhina ruthlessly vanquished all hopes of a comeback. Zvezda continue their impressive form and they look good value to consolidate third place; they still have a game in hand (against lowly Yenisey) over Ryazan. Zenit, meanwhile, could slip into the bottom two if Yenisey were to get something from their game in hand.

Elsewhere, Lokomotiv welcomed bottom club Chertanovo, in what was a small Moscow Derby. Chertanovo, who are still searching for their first points of the season, were dominated for much of the match, but they did manage to keep Lok at bay for a good half an hour. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Nelli Korovkina is inevitable, and when the inevitable finally arrived, everything came tumbling down for the visitors and the floodgates opened.

Korovkina thought she had the opener after getting on the end of a saved Lina Yakupova shot in the 37th minute, but the offside flag was raised by the assistant referee. Not to be deterred, Yakupova burst forward just two minutes later to set up Korovkina for real this time; the 2019 golden boot winner struck the ball into the top corner. Devils ‘keeper Dina Ponomareva once again showed her inconsistency, tarnishing some decent saves with appalling decision-making and footwork. Said poor footwork was on display right on the stroke of half time, when she aimlessly hit the ball into midfield for Anna Kozhnikova to gobble up. The Lok captain headed the ball back from whence it came, Marina Fedorova and Alsu Abdullina moved it further up the pitch with some delicate one-touch football, and Korovkina was in yet again.

The encounter continued in similar fashion after the break and Korovkina got on the scoresheet once more in the 50th minute, completing a twelve-minute hattrick. Chertanovo pulled one back ten minutes from time, but alas, it just fired up Lok even more. Kristina Cherkasova and a Marina Fedorova penalty concluded the 5-1 rout. Thus, Lok closed the gap to CSKA to four points, but as mentioned in the last Superliga Recap, it is most likely too little too late.

Nelli Korovkina had plenty of reasons to smile at the weekend (Source)

The third and final match of the shortened round pitted a burgeoning Ryazan up against a struggling Krasnodar, but form went out the window, with the visitors managing to pull off the upset.

But it certainly didn’t look like an upset was on the cards when Tatyana Krasnova opened the scoring in the 22nd minute with a sliding finish to put Ryazan up 1-0. Krasnodar weren’t playing around, though, and Tatyana Zaitseva’s side hit back just a minute later through 17-year-old Medeya Sharkova.

A back and forth encounter was ultimately decided by a counter, as the ever deadly Elena Kostareva burst forward to stun the home side. With those much-needed three points, Krasnodar moved closer to Ryazan, while the latter missed a golden opportunity to jump up to third. But after yesterday’s news, I doubt that the Ryazan players will care too much about this result, as they will have to worry about their livelihoods soon.

On Monday, news broke that Ryazan will fold after this season. The decision was made by the Ministry of Sports, citing financial reasons and a lack of interest by fans. While the latter is certainly a justified concern, supporters have put forth warranted queries as to why a four-time champion competing at the highest level has to cease operations while Ryazan’s men’s clubs, all languishing in the lower leagues, will walk away from these cost-cutting measures unscathed. The government revealed that it spends 42 million ruble (roughly £420,000) annually on the team and that it can no longer provide that kind of money. Russian football’s economy is quite frail and clubs vanish with shocking frequency (Torpedo Izhevsk folded just last year), but the number mentioned above isn’t exactly breaking the bank. The decision by the Ministry of Sports has been denounced by supporters and players alike and whilst it’s tough to imagine a scenario where this uproar gains enough traction to keep the club alive, the federation’s official statement did offer cause for hope:

“The RFU is concerned about this decision and plans to discuss the current situation with the Government of the Ryazan region. The development of women’s football is one of the most important activities of the Russian Football Union, and the RFU will make every effort so that the team can continue to exist and delight fans.”

Obviously, no announcement has been made as to whether the league will proceed with seven teams next season or if another club will join, but there have been rumors that Spartak Moscow are planning to finally get involved in women’s football; this news could potentially speed up that process. Spartak, Dynamo Moscow, and Rostov are the biggest men’s clubs in Russia not currently involved in the women’s game, but there are plenty of other men’s clubs still lagging behind, so anyone could be awarded that eighth spot; speculation is pointless at present.

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