The behaviour of supporters has dominated most of the headlines ahead of Russia’s second Euro 2016 Group B match against Slovakia in Lille on Wednesday.
Clashes between Russian, English and French hooligans caused mayhem in Marseille ahead of the 1-1 draw with England last weekend, prompting riot police to intervene with teargas, although none of the six individuals charged with criminal offences were Russian.
The match itself was overshadowed by more violence as scores of Russian fans crossed a feeble cordon in the stands to attack the English and neutral supporters, leading to a number of injuries and the arrest of two more individuals for pitch encroachment.
Despite UEFA warnings over possible disqualification, Russian Football Union executive committee member Igor Lebedev caused further controversy when he told the hooligans to “keep it up” this week, as Slovakia take on Leonid Slutsky’s side in Lille while England meet Wales in the nearby town of Lens.
From a footballing perspective, the match is a crucial one for both sides, with Slovakia desperate for points after a 2-1 loss to Wales and Russia buoyed by Vasili Berezutski’s stoppage-time equaliser against England.
With midfielder Denis Glushakov now back in full training, Slutsky has a full squad of outfield players from which to choose, and Artem Dzyuba – who was often left isolated against the English defence – hopes for a stronger attacking display this time around.
“Our defence was well organised but not everything worked in attack – we were a bit disjointed,” Dzyuba told UEFA.com.
“A lot of balls got kicked out of play. But it was the first match and a difficult one. At times we held on to the ball really well. I think if we add 20-30 per cent in attack, there will be more goals and we’ll create more chances.”
Slovakia, meanwhile, have not lost back-to-back matches since October 2013 and must keep that record intact if they are to hold realistic hopes of making the last 16.
Midfield star Marek Hamsik, denied a brilliant solo goal by a goal-line block from Ben Davies against Wales, felt his side showed enough in Bordeaux to feel confident going forward.
“I thought I’d scored,” he admitted. “Straight after that, Gareth Bale showed his qualities with a free-kick goal. We dominated in the second half but couldn’t score a second.
“We pressured Wales and created several chances. I don’t know if we can talk about luck for Wales, but it was above all a balanced encounter.”
Key Opta Stats:
– This will be the first time Russia have taken on Slovakia in the European Championship, although they have met twice previously in qualifying for the tournament, each claiming a 1-0 away victory.
– Slovakia are without a goal in 243 minutes against Russia. They have scored only one goal in their last four games versus Russia.
– Russia have kept just two clean sheets in their last 16 games at the Euro finals. They come into this game having only claimed victory once in their last six matches (D2 L3).
– Russia have only managed to score twice in their last four meetings with Slovakia, those two efforts recorded by Alexander Kerzhakov (2014) and Alan Dzagoev (2011); both have been omitted from the Russian Euro 2016 squad.
– Ondrej Duda scored after just 52 just seconds after coming off the bench in Slovakia’s 2016 opener against Wales; the fastest Euro finals goal by a substitute since Juan Carlos Valeron on June 12, 2004, against Russia (39 seconds).