The Sunday final of the Russian Football Cup has a bright poster for the first time in many years. Moscow Spartak and Dynamo will play in the decisive match – historically, their confrontation is of a fundamental nature. The derby will take place at the Luzhniki stadium, and the excitement around the match is such that all 80,000 seats can be filled. Both teams have serious game problems: Dynamo looked faded in the spring, and Spartak didn’t look the whole season. Winning the tournament is important for both. The Cup of Russia did not submit to Spartak for almost 20 years, and to Dynamo for more than a quarter of a century.
Spartak: saving the worst season
The Red and Whites last won the Russian Cup in 2003 under the club’s previous owner Andrey Chervichenko and under the most successful head coach in their post-Soviet history, Oleg Romantsev. By the way, he left his post a few days after that victorious final against Rostov (1: 0) due to a conflict with the leadership.
In the era of Leonid Fedun, who has owned the club since 2004, this trophy has never been conquered by Spartak. During this time, the team won the championship and the Russian Super Cup only once – in 2017. The last time the red-whites reached the final of the Cup of the country was in 2006 under Vladimir Fedotov. Then they lost in the final to CSKA Moscow with a score of 0:3.
Since then, there have been several offensive misfires, when participation in the decisive match seemed very close, but the red-whites stumbled at the semi-final stage. In 2011, under Valery Karpin, Spartak lost to CSKA in a penalty shootout (4:5) after a striking 3:3 draw in regular and extra time. And in 2018, the champion team under the leadership of Massimo Carrera missed the advantage in the score in regular time at home with the distressed Tosno. As a result, according to the results of the main and extra time, the score was 1:1, and in the penalty shootout, the team from the Leningrad Region won 5:4. As a result, the club won the trophy, simultaneously flying out of the RPL, and was immediately disbanded.
A possible victory will be a great gift for Spartak fans in the year of the centenary of the club’s foundation. The paradox is that the title can be won in one of the worst seasons in history.
Since the summer, the red-and-whites have been endlessly shaken by scandals related to the public appearances of Fedun’s wife, Zarema Salikhova. In recent years, even in the absence of a formal status (in 2021, she was only two and a half weeks on the board of directors of Spartak), the media call her the de facto head of the club. Which is not denied in public statements either by herself or by many members of the team.
Last summer, on her Telegram channel, she harshly criticized sports director Dmitry Popov for appointing Rui Vitoria as head coach. In August, Popov resigned of his own accord, stating that he did not want to endure Zarema’s criticism. Later, he started his own channel, in which he posted several documents and correspondence with her, refuting some of her statements. Later, Zarema deleted her channel, and Popov stopped running his own.
But this did not save Spartak from problems. Throughout the second half of last year, the team had poor results in the Russian Championship. By the winter break, the red-and-whites, led by Vitoria, were in ninth place in the RPL. But at the same time, they had a successful European Cup season, coming out of first place from a very difficult Europa League group. The Portuguese has become very popular among fans who are not very sympathetic to Zarema. But this did not save him from resignation.
Head coach Paolo Vanoli and sports director Luca Cattani, who came to the club in December, were already creatures of Fedun’s wife. The Italians work with the full support of the leadership and without public criticism. This did not improve the results in the championship: Spartak finished the season in the RPL in tenth place – a repetition of the worst result in 30 years after the collapse of the USSR. Previously, red-white fell so low only in 2003.
The Spartak team made it to the final without any problems: they defeated Kuban at home (6:1) in the 1/8 finals, beat CSKA away (1:0) in the quarterfinals and defeated Krasnoyarsk Enisey at home in the semifinals (3:0) . In addition to the army, all rivals were representatives of the lower division – FNL-1.
“Given the spring crisis at Dynamo, I think that Spartak has a better chance of winning,” Alexander Mostovoy, a former red-and-white midfielder, shared his opinion with Izvestia. – The Blue and White have not been able to win for a month now, they are suffering devastating defeats and are going downhill. Spartak does not look much better, but is still able to gather for a separate match and win, which was shown by both the cup quarterfinal with CSKA and the March derby with Dynamo (2:0) in the championship. In addition, the players will definitely want to please themselves, and the management, and the fans by winning the trophy in the year of the club’s centenary.
Dynamo: long life without trophies
Since the arrival of Sandro Schwartz as head coach of the White and Blues in October 2020, Dynamo has become very popular and has mostly positive feedback from fans and experts. This is largely due to the desire of the German specialist to put the team in attacking football with high pressure, as well as great confidence in young Russians, among whom Arsen Zakharyan, Daniil Fomin, Konstantin Tyukavin, Vyacheslav Grulev stand out.
Last year, even with defeats, Dynamo most often showed quality football. Sometimes they lost points due to mistakes in defense and weak conversion of chances. Nevertheless, Dynamo had a great time for most of the 2021/22 Russian Championship. For the winter break, the blue and white went second, just a little behind the leading Zenit.
At the end of February, the team lost two Ukrainians. Assistant head coach Andrei Voronin terminated the contract and left the country. The main central defender Ivan Ordets has ceased to enter the field and get into the application.
In the spring, the quality of Dynamo’s play deteriorated, but until mid-April the team was still steadily scoring points and breathing down Zenit’s back. However, in the last five rounds, she scored only one point. And not only quickly lost her chances for the championship, but also missed the second place.
In the last round, Sochi took silver, defeating Dynamo on their own field with a score of 5:1. The Blues and Whites ended up taking bronze. The last time this was achieved under the leadership of Andrey Kobelev in 2008. Now it is considered a success, but the blurred ending of the season spoils the impression.
The defense is especially worried, since in the last four rounds of the championship the team conceded 16 goals – in addition to the defeat from Sochi, there was an away defeat 2:5 from the Samara Krylya Sovetov, a home loss to Ural Yekaterinburg (2:3) and a draw in the derby with Lokomotiv (3:3).
But fans can forget about this if they manage to take the Cup. On the way to it, Dynamo beat Nizhny Novgorod at home (3: 0) in the 1/8 finals, in the quarterfinals they hardly defeated the Kaliningrad Baltika playing in the FNL (1: 1, on penalties 5: 2), and in the semi-finals at home, they defeated another inhabitant of the first division – Vladikavkaz “Alania” (3: 0).
During the entire post-Soviet era, Dynamo won a serious trophy only once. It was the 1995 Russian Cup. Then in Luzhniki, the blue and whites under the leadership of Konstantin Beskov played a goalless draw with Rotor Volgograd in regular and extra time, and took the upper hand 8:7 on penalties. According to the legendary defender Alexander Tochilin, who played for the team at that time, recent failures do not reduce Dynamo’s chances of success in the final.
“There are such unsuccessful games as with Sochi, but I think that the Dynamo players will approach the final with a completely different attitude,” Tochilin told Izvestia. – And the mistakes that were made, they will analyze together with the coaching staff. And yet, speaking objectively, Sochi and Spartak are two different teams. Sochi are much stronger than Spartak today. I think the fans are in for a very interesting and spectacular match between two principal rivals, but Dynamo will have a slight advantage.
The last time the Russian Cup final was played in Moscow was in 2008. And in Luzhniki there has not been such a match since 2007. For the first time, the decisive game of the Cup will take place on the main sports arena of the country after its reconstruction.
In the 86-year history of the tournament, Spartak and Dynamo played against each other only once in its decisive meeting. It happened in 1951. Then the red-whites turned out to be stronger and won with a score of 3:0.