Thursday 12 October 2017, 18:26

Russia relying on Kokorin for World Cup goals

  • Aleksandr Kokorin the leading goalscorer in current Russia squad

  • Back in the national team after year-long absence

  • Kokorin's Brazil 2014 goal almost sent Russia to knockout rounds

Having an entire country's hopes on your shoulders at the age of 23 is not an easy task, yet this was the case for Russia striker Aleksandr Kokorin going into the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ Brazil. Kokorin almost justified the expectations: in the sixth minute of the final group-stage game against Algeria, which would determine who went through to the Round of 16, the striker scored a wonderful header. Unfortunately, the Sbornaya later conceded and the 1-1 draw sent Fabio Capello’s side crashing out of the tournament.

Since then Kokorin, who made the move from Dynamo Moscow to Zenit Saint Petersburg at the beginning of 2016, has divided opinion on the domestic scene. Russia head coach Stanislav Cherchesov opted not to include Kokorin in his squad for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 on home soil. It seemed his status as the biggest talent in Russian football was on the wane.

That all changed this summer, however. Italian coach Roberto Mancini took over at Zenit and presided over a major overhaul of the squad. To the surprise of many, the leader of the new-look Zenit was Kokorin himself. Mancini brought him inside from the wing to his favoured position of centre forward. The results were instantaneous, as the No9 began scoring and delivering assists, and currently stands as the top scorer in the Russian Premier League. This October – after a year out in the cold – he finally made his return to the national team.

Kokorin did not manage to add to his goal tally in the friendlies against Korea Republic (4-2) and Iran (1-1), but he earned praise for his attacking moves and attempts to reignite an old partnership with former sidekick Fyodor Smolov. The pair started their careers together at Dynamo Moscow and are now looking to become Russia’s go-to attacking duo. Smolov has been on a similar journey to Kokorin, from an emerging prospect to a period of criticism and frequent disappointment but now back to widespread adulation again, after his career took an upward turn. The formula is simple: when a striker feels loved, they will get you goals.

There are still eight months to go until the World Cup in Russia, plenty of time for someone else to stake their claim, but for now Sbornaya fans and coaches are relying on this partnership for firepower next summer. Kokorin has one great advantage to his name: he is the only player in the current Russia squad who actually knows what it feels like to score at a FIFA World Cup.

In his own words "Not playing at the Confederations Cup was a wake-up call for me – until then I had been in the national team for five years. I really wanted to return as quickly as possible. The team has changed recently and there are many new faces. It’s important to gather rhythm and start playing well together after the overhaul."

Russia head coach Stanislav Cherchesov "I spoke with him and he understood what he had to work on. Now we’re seeing the results. I know ‘Sasha’ (Kokorin) well and we've been working together for almost two years. Finally he’s playing in his natural position and getting more pleasure from it."

Kokorin facts

  • Born in Valuyki, a town of 35,000 inhabitants, in 1991

  • Scored his first Russian Premier League goal on his debut for Dynamo Moscow aged 17

  • Made his international debut in 2011

  • Has played 46 matches for the national team, scoring 12 goals

  • Leading goalscorer in the current Russia squad

  • Played three matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, scoring once

  • Into his third campaign at Zenit Saint Petersburg

  • Has made his best-ever start to a season this year: 15 goals in 18 matches