Football in Russia

When the USSR broke up 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 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 and FC Torpedo Moscow.

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.