National football (soccer) teams from Caspian countries came to the pitch on Tuesday in what are the final warm-up matches before the 2018 FIFA World Cup literally kicks off in Russia on June 14.
Russia squared off against the Turkish national team at the VEB Arena in Moscow within the seventh pre-tournament preparation game. Turkey did not qualify for this year’s World Cup, but the game was nevertheless an opportunity to boost morale and offer players a venue to show sportsmanship and athleticism. But Stanislav Cherchesov, the manager of the Russian national team, said the game was the last chance to take final notes and assess his players’ moves ahead of the big game.
The match ended in a tie, 1-1. Alexander Samedov’s opening goal in the 36th minute of the game was not enough to secure an anticipated win with just a week remaining before the team plays on their home turf for the quadrennial international competition that is arguably second to only the Olympic Games.
Yunus Malli from Turkey, a player for Germany’s Wolfsburg football team, equalized the score in the 60th minute of Tuesday’s match with a shot from 25 meters outside the box.
Russia placed at number 66 in the latest FIFA rankings, coming in as the second-lowest ranked team out of the 32 that will compete in the World Cup. Russia will play against Saudi Arabia on opening day, and also have matches against the teams from Egypt and Uruguay, all within Group A.
A match between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, dubbed the “Caspian duel,” ended in Kazakhstani players’ favor, with a closing score of 3-0. The Kazakhstani team secured its first win at the Astana Arena under its new head coach, Roman Hryhorchuk, who managed Azerbaijan’s Gabala football club before taking over Kazakhstan’s national team.
Neither Azerbaijan nor Kazakhstan, ranking 126 and 116 respectively in the latest FIFA ranking, will be playing in Russia. Both national teams have yet to ever qualify for the World Cup.
Iran’s national football team, bound for Moscow on June 14, will face Lithuania in what is its last warm-up game before going to Russia. Spain and Portugal will each face off against the Iranian team in group B, but only after Iran’s opening match against Morocco. The men’s national football team of Iran ranks 36 in the latest FIFA ranking.