Football in Russia
This article covers the current state of football in Russia.
When the USSR broke down into 15 different countries, the once renowned sports structure of the union collapsed. Football was the most popular sport in the Soviet Union. While the national teams and the clubs used to be linked to state institutions or mass organizations, in 1991 they became private enterprises. Just like in many other spheres of business, corrupt and sometimes bloody division of power began. Furthermore, many teams of the erstwhile Soviet Top League, which was once considered to be one of the strongest and was able to compete with those of England and Italy, were now in divided between the national football associations of the newly independent republics. Many of the top brand names lost their financing from the government and were left to rot, waiting for some forms of sponsorship. Citizens of Russia are interested mostly in the national team that gets to compete in the World Cup and the European Championship, and in the Premier league, where clubs from different cities look to become champions of Russia. There are also competitions considered less important, such as the Russian Cup. Some of the most famous clubs include Spartak Moscow, Lokomotiv Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg, Dynamo Moscow. There are in fact six teams in the Premier League from the city of Moscow as it was the first city to recover from the destruction of the old system.
Due to the large extension of the country, the top Russian division and its European-based clubs have often had problems adjusting to having to play clubs from Siberia, particularly those from the Far East, such as Okean Nakhodka, Luch-Energia Vladivostok and SKA-Energia Khabarovsk. Although it is very rare that a Far Eastern club competes for the Russian league title or spots in UEFA competitions, European-based teams often complain about lost matches due to jet lag or other such factors.
Today, football is the number one sport in the country. A very high proportion of men are interested in it to a certain extent (and many children play it regularly) and women also join men when it comes to the national team. The Russian league is rapidly regaining its former strength because of huge sponsorship deals, an influx of finances and a fairly high degree of competitiveness with roughly 10 teams capable of winning the title. Many notable talented foreign players have been and are playing in the Russian league as well as local talented players worthy of a spot in the starting eleven of the best clubs. The relegation battles are also competitive and considered very exciting.
The Russian national team gained attention when they beat traditional European powerhouses The Netherlands 3-1 in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals before losing to eventual champions Spain. Nevertheless, four players made the Team of the Tournament. Some players such as Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko earned big-money moves to the English Premier League after impressing at the tournament.
Thus now the Russian Premier League are among the best in Eastern Europe, as evidenced by recent victories in the UEFA Cup (CSKA Moscow defeated Sporting CP in the 2005 final and Zenit St. Petersburg earned a victory over Rangers F.C. in the 2008 UEFA Cup in Manchester) and also claimed the UEFA Super Cup in a 2-1 win over Manchester United.
The first level of the Russian league system is the 16-club Premier League. Below it are the National Football League, a self-governing league, and the Second Division, administered by the Russian Football Union. The National League consists of 17 clubs, and the Second Division has 73 clubs split geographically into five zones (West, Centre, South, Ural-Povolzhye, and East) with varying numbers of clubs in each. After each season, the top two clubs of the National League replace bottom two clubs of the Premier League, and champions of each Second Division zone replace five bottom clubs of the National League. A championship between youth teams of Premier League clubs also exists.
The Second Division is the lowest level of professional football in Russia. The next level of football is the Amateur Football League, which is split into ten zones: Northwest, Golden Ring, Moscow, Podmoskovye (Moscow region), Chernozemye (Black Earth region), South, Privolzhye (Volga region), Ural and West Siberia, Siberia, and Far East. After each season, the bottom finishers of each Second Division zone are relegated to the Amateur Football League, and the winners of each Amateur Football League are eligible for promotion to the Second Division, subject to meeting Professional Football League requirements.
Seven of the Amateur Football League zones are using one-tier system. The rest (Moscow, Podmoskovye, and Siberia) consist of two divisions with promotion and relegation. This means that a newly created team can enter the Russian league system at the fourth level and reach the Premier League in three years.
|1||Premier Football League
|2||National Football League
|3||Professional Football League|
|4||Amateur Football League|
|North West||Golden Ring||Centre (Moscow)||Centre (Moscow Oblast)||South||Chernozemye||Ural and West Siberia||Privolzhye||Far East||Siberia|
Hosting the World Cup
On December 2, 2010, Russia was awarded the FIFA World Cup 2018. Russia will host the tournament for the first time. Because it is the largest country in the world, it becomes the largest nation to host the World Cup, a title once held by the United States since 1994.
The main cup competition in Russia is the Russian Cup. Only professional clubs take part in it.
There is also an Amateur Football League Cup, a competition for the Amateur Football League clubs. The winners of this cup are eligible for promotion to the Second Division.
Cups of federal subjects are also played.
The Russian League is regarded as the 7th strongest league in Europe, based on its teams performances in European Competition. Russian club sides constantly compete in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup. In the last years Russia has won three major European trophies. These are CSKA Moscow 2004/05 UEFA Cup and Zenit St.Petersburg's UEFA Cup 2007/08 and UEFA Super Cup 2007/08 Triumphs.
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