In more ways than one, it was a historic opening day in the new-look Russian Superliga. Rostov and Rubin Kazan made their women’s football bow, defending champions CSKA slipped up, and Marina Fedorova produced a piece of magic as Lokomotiv Moscow’s title challenge got off to the perfect start. Let’s recap the action!
In the season opener, lowly Yenisey were confronted with the daunting task of facing last year’s third-placed side Zvezda. Having failed to really get going in preseason, the Perm outfit carried their less than impressive form into this game and they struggled to break down a resolute Siberian backline. The opening match turned out to be a snoozefest as these sides played out a scoreless draw. Unfortunately, the second Saturday game wasn’t much better.
Newly-formed Rostov faced an equally daunting task as they played host to a CSKA side keen to bounce back after being outclassed by Lokomotiv in the inaugural edition of the Supercup. The newbies certainly rode their luck at times, but all in all, they put in a very respectable debut performance and they even managed to keep a clean sheet.
CSKA’s lack of attacking firepower was once again evident and it seems like my worries about them were well-founded. Tatyana Kozyrenko got the nod ahead of Lyubov Yachenko up top, but, as mentioned in my season preview, she’s more of a grafter and, with all due respect, doesn’t necessarily strike fear into the hearts of defenders. Ultimately, CSKA were lucky that Rostov were identically incapable of mounting a coherent offense; this game, too, finished 0-0. Fortunately for CSKA, in round two, they will meet the other debutant in Rubin, who already look utterly lost at this level.
Thankfully, the Sunday matches weren’t as dull and Lokomotiv got the day started with a bang. The visitors from Krasnodar were pretty much hopeless against the Moscow juggernaut, so much so in fact, that Marina Fedorova eventually started taking the mickey out of them. After just five minutes, Kristina Mashkova opened the scoring with a daring header that saw her require treatment afterward. Nelli Korovkina then doubled Loko’s lead in typically clinical fashion in the 30th minute. Four minutes later, Fedorova pulled off a perfectly executed rainbow flick, which, incredibly, she actually has a history of doing – she’s done it at least twice before in her career, once with Russia and the other time with her former club Real Betis.
Anna Belomyttseva completed the rout late on with a deft backheel, but Loko could easily have had four had Anna Kozhnikova not missed a penalty with the last kick of the game – although she might have blasted the spot kick over the bar out of compassion since an outfield player was forced to play in goal for Krasnodar after Tatyana Shcherbak was sent off. It was a very disappointing performance from Krasnodar in Gamal Babaev’s first game in charge, but it was unmistakably a statement win from Loko; they certainly look a good bet to come out on top at the end of the season.
Next up was a pretty lowkey affair between Chertanovo and newbies Rubin Kazan. A 3-0 preseason loss to Yenisey ostensibly set the tone for a Rubin side that, on the face of it, seems nowhere near strong enough to compete at Superliga level and that was evident in this game against last season’s wooden spoon ‘winners’ Chertanovo. The home side already had the ball in the back of the net after just five minutes, but fortunately for the Tatar visitors, the flag went up for offside. The Devils were unquestionably the dominant side, but they struggled to create clear-cut chances – something that could eventually come back to haunt them later in the season – until late in the game. Chertanovo took the lead in the 65th minute through Daria Solonovich after an almighty scramble in the box, before Anna Trenkina made it two twelve minutes from time.
The stats that were shown post-game pretty much tell the story of the encounter: Chertanovo had 72% of the possession, 17 to 3 shots, and 15 to 1 corners. On the bright side for Rubin, it’s still early days, so there’s plenty of time for them to turn it around, but I can’t see them making inroads with this squad if I’m being brutally honest. As a funny and I guess somewhat damning aside, one of their standout performers on the day, Azerbaijani international Nigar Mirzalieva, hasn’t even been officially announced as a Rubin player yet. Not ideal!
The final game of round one pitted two almost unrecognizable sides against each other, as Zenit welcomed Ryazan to St. Petersburg. Zenit dominated the game from the first whistle and ultimately came out on top, however, they did so with some very interesting personnel. Coach Olga Poryadina elected to leave marquee signing Lina Yakupova on the bench with Ekaterina Pantyukhina starting in her stead. The two new Belarusian arrivals, Yulia Slesarchik and Anna Shuppo, started out on the opposite side of where they played at Dynamo Minsk; both played on the right as opposed to the left. Despite being the last Zenit transfer to be announced, Ana Dias walked straight into the team, operating at center forward even though she was billed as more of a winger when she arrived. Furthermore, Poryadina somewhat surprisingly handed starting berths to Tatyana Stepanova and 17-year-old Ksenia Oleksyuk in the ten and at center-back, respectively.
The Blue-White-Sky Blues overwhelmed Ryazan with a highly aggressive press, but it was the visitors who got on the board first through a 54th-minute stunner from Ksenia Alpatova. Poryadina responded by bringing on Yakupova, Ekaterina Sochneva, and Elizaveta Lazareva; it paid off big time. Mere minutes after coming on, Yakupova set up Gabriela Grzywinska, whose deflected shot in turn set up Ana Dias, who equalized with an acrobatic effort. With the seconds ticking away, it was Yakupova again who played a decisive role: in the 89th minute, her perfectly-weighted through ball found Lazareva, and the 18-year-old, who was signed from Ryazan in the offseason, proceeded to smash the ball against the underside of the crossbar and it bounced over the line. It was the perfect start to the season for a Zenit side that will be keen to have a say in this year’s title race and a fitting end to a thrilling opening day.
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