Krasnodar 2-3 Zenit: the best match in RPL history?

Krasnodar vs Zenit, April 20th 2019. Photo:

For some weeks now, Russian football fans have been looking ahead to match week 24 as the season defining round. With the Moscow derby between Lokomotiv and CSKA followed by Krasnodar vs Zenit on the Saturday, the top four would square off between one another in matches which will shape the race for the title and Champions League spot.

The Moscow derby started well, going in at half time at 1-1, but then fizzled out in the second half. But at 9pm local time, the big one kicked off. If Zenit could win, they would go 8 points clear of Lokomotiv at the top of the league – surely an unassailable lead with just six matches left to play – while a Krasnodar win would close the gap between Zenit and themselves to just 3 points.

What followed was a match which has quickly been dubbed, the match of the season, the match of the decade, or even the best match in RPL history.

A thrilling encounter in which both sides went all out to try and get the win, fans were treated to end to end football, chances galore, outstanding goalkeeping, stunning goals, contentious decisions and late drama, in a 97 minute blockbuster.

First Half – The Calm Before the Storm

Zenit came out of the blocks quickest, and Krasnodar’s young goalkeeper Matvey Safonov had the game of his life to keep the score at 0-0 for as long as possible, with a string of incredible saves to deny Dzyuba, Smolnikov, Azmoun and Rigoni. Azmoun would later tell the press that he had never seen a goalkeeping performance like it.

However, the pressure eventually paid off. Safonov reacted brilliantly to deny Rigoni from a far post cross, but the rebound was squared for Artem Dzyuba to tap home. Russia’s World Cup hero with his first goal since October.

The goal sparked Krasnodar into life, who quickly went on the offensive with a number of chances, and 6 minutes later, bagged the equaliser. A slick counter attack prodded home by Krasnodar academy graduate Ivan Ignatiev, for his 6th league goal of the season.

With parity restored, madness ensued, and the remaining 20 minutes of the half saw chance after chance spurned or saved or off the post in the case of Azmoun, before fans were finally able to draw breath as the half time whistle blew. The match stats showed the end to end nature of the game, with 23 shots shared between the sides almost evenly.

Second Half – A Whirlwind Affair

Considering the pace of the game in the first half, it might have been expected for things to slow down a bit in the 2nd half, but no. The same exhilarating affair continued, and again no side were really dominating, with chances falling at both ends, Ramirez hooking off the line for to save Krasnodar, while at the other end, Andrey Lunev held firm.

Then, a moment of magic. For the 4th week in a row, Zenit scored direct from a free kick, and centre half Yaroslav Rakitskiy has now bagged three of them. He sent a sumptuous effort past Safonov and into the top corner from 28 yards to put Zenit back in the lead and send the Zenit fans into raptures.

For the remaining 22 minutes of normal time, it was almost all Krasnodar, they dominated possession, and chance after chance went begging. Shapi was denied by Lunev, as was Wanderson. Then with 10 minutes to play, a scuffle broke out. Magomed Ozdoev, who had already undergone treatment, sat down in the Zenit penalty area and asked to be substituted. Krasnodar players didn’t take to it well and madness followed.

Zenit amped up the time wasting efforts and incensed the Krasnodar fans and players even more, when Ozdoev rejected the stretcher in order to limp off. Zenit then went to make a double change, but chose to bring off Rigoni first, meaning another slow walk to the side of the pitch where Ozdoev was waiting to depart.

This incensed the Krasnodar substutites and staff, and another brawl erupted this time in the technical area. Four minutes after Ozdoev initially went down, normality was restored and two yellow cards were shown, and play could resume. Krasnodar would come to regret this hold up even more by the final whistle.

Play resumed, and finally Krasnodar’s pressure paid off. Mauricio Pereyra with a beauty from 25 yards – unstoppable. The game back level once again and displaying a fair result for the spectacle that they had put on.

But the final twist was yet to come, as in the 5th of 7 minutes added on, Artem Dzyuba stole the headlines with a winner from a corner kick. A dramatic end to the match, and a vital goal in Zenit’s title ambitions. In the heat of the moment, it was to be seen to be beleived. With all that had gone on, no one wanted it to end. But that was the final blow. Zenit took all three points and a huge step towards the title.

The best match in RPL history?

So, was it the best match in RPL history, I, and a number of the other staff at RFN, quickly decided that yes, it was. Considering the importance of the result, the electric pace of the game and the way it actually played out – it had everything a top level game should have. In the week that Man City won 4-3 against Spurs, this one was up there in comparison.

Journalist Dmitriy Egorov said “The match Krasnodar vs Zenit – the best of those that I have seen in the RPL. This is amazing.”

Gazprom chairman Alexey Miller said “It was a game that will go down as one of the great games of Russian football.”

MatchTV commentator Dmitriy Shnyakin said “This is the best Russian match I’ve seen live, no to mention commentate on!”

Both Sport-Express and published pieces asking whether it was also the match of the year/season/ever, with heated debates in the comments. Meanwhile, a poll on the Premier Liga’s official VK account currently has 27% of the 32,000 votes cast, declaring it to be the best match in RPL history, while 47% say it was just the best match of the season.

Poll options from top to bottom (Week, Month, Season, Decade, Ever).

What we can at least be thankful for, is that the RPL can produce such a high quality match again. Two of it’s best teams going hammer and tong to get three points at a pivotal stage of the season, and providing a spectacle to be remembered for years to come. And perhaps best of all for the league, it was broadcast free for foreign viewers on Youtube. If a first time watcher tuned in to that game, the RPL would instantly become more appealing to the viewer.

To watch highlights of the match, head to the Official RPL Youtube channel here:


Author: David Sansun

Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.

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