The largely popular video game FIFA Soccer comes out soon and the demo for the game drops today. Now, why am I talking about a video game? The sales from the game broke records for fastest and best-selling sports video game of all-time. FIFA broke sales records last year set by the ultra-popular Madden and NCAA Football. This is especially impressive because in the U.S. the main connoisseurs of sports video games are young males – which in America are forced to watch almost exclusively football highlights during the fall (American football, that is) on sports shows.
So what does mean and what am I talking about? I’m saying that soccer is penetrating young American sports society, which is exciting for the U.S. to finally join the rest of the world in enjoying the sport. For those in the U.S. who are familiar with European football, many people can recognize players and teams from the top leagues such as the English Premier League, La Liga (Spain), Seria A (Italy), the Bundesliga (Germany) and Ligue 1 (France). These are the top 5 leagues in the world according to the UEFA coefficient (a mathematical formula that ranks soccer teams and leagues based on on-the-field success).
My job is to introduce you to the culture and trends of football in another major European country: Russia. This Russian Premier League introduction will briefly prime you on top teams and players, along with the trends going on in Russian football.
Here are the contending teams:
Zenit St. Petersburg – St. Petersburg
Zenit is the 2-time defending Russian champ and one of the richest teams in all of Euro football. Zenit flexed its muscles by just spending 80 million Euro on Brazilian star Hulk and young Belgian star Axel Witsel. Zenit is in the Champions League and believe they have what it takes to win the Champions League within the next few years.
Star Players: Hulk , ST (Brazil). Danny, MF (Portugal). Alexander Kerzhakov, ST (Russia).
CSKA Moskva – Moscow
CSKA is historically the Russian Red Army team in all sports. After a Top 16 showing in Champions League last year, CSKA qualified only for Europa League this season and has already been knocked out by AIK (a Swedish team). CSKA is known for its strong offensive play and the leadership of its goalie Igor Akinfeev and Russian hero defender Sergei Ignashevich. CSKA did not spend much money this year, and could possibly be passed up by richer team Anzhi Makhachkala if they are not careful.
Star Players: Igor Akinfeev, GK (Russia). Seydou Doumbia ST, (Cote D’Ivore). Keisuke Honda, MF (Japan). Sergei Ignashevich, DF (Russia).
Anzhi Makhachkala – Makhachkala
No one had ever heard of Anzhi Makhachkala when they signed Cameroonian superstar Samuel Eto’o away from Champions League winner Inter Milan a year ago. After years of complete oblivion, people actually know who Anzhi is and recognize several players on what used to be a completely unknown team. Anzhi was bought buy natural gas billionaire Suleyman Kerimov and quickly vaulted into contention. The team is filled with international players from Brazil, Morocco, and a couple more Africans. Anzhi is considered the richest team in the Russian premier league and will compete in the Europa League this season.
Star Players: Samuel Eto’o, ST (Cameroon), Mbark Boussoufa, MF (Morocco), Yuri Zhirkov, MF (Russia).
Spartak Moskva – Moscow
Spartak made a splash a few years ago with the signing of Irish player Aiden McGeady to their already international front line of Brazilians Welliton and Ari. Spartak has hung around near the top of the RPL, but has yet to top Zenit in the past couple of years. Spartak is again near the top of the RPL this season, but has already been blown out by Zenit. Some things seem to never change. Spartak is currently competing in the Champions league, but are in the same group as powerhouse Barcelona.
Star Players: Aiden McGeady, MF (Ireland), Welliton, ST (Brazil), Dmitri Kombarov, MF (Russia)
Rubin Kazan – Kazan
Kazan was top dog as recently as 2007-2008, but finished a disappointing 6th last season, but qualified for Europa with a big win the Russian Cup. The team has been passed up by free-spending Anzhi Makhachkala and still has to compete Zenit and the two tough Moscow teams. Kazan has a shot to prove itself in Europa, but will face Inter Milan in its grouping.
Star Players: Gokhan Tore, MF (Turkey). Gokdeniz Kardeniz, MF (Turkey). Obafemi Martins, ST (Nigeria).
Lokomotiv Moskva – Moscow
The third Moscow team is often forgotten behind oft-champions Spartak and CSKA, but Lokomotiv has a solid team and some interesting players. “Loko” has young up-and-coming Brazilian striker Maicon and can pair him with new signing Roman Pavlyuchenko, a former star for Tottenham. Loko also boasts Brazilian keeper Guilherme and new veteran Croatian defender Vedran Corluka. Corluka joins Roman Shishkin to form a solid defense for Loko. Loko is sticking around the top 5 and has a shot to make Europa this year.
Star Players: Vedran Corluka, DF (Croatia), Roman Pavlyuchenko, ST (Russia), Felipe Caicedo, ST (Ecuador).
With every blog post, there will be an update of the Russian Table:
Table courtesy ESPN.com and @ESPNFC