Can ‘Russian Leicester’ Rostov snatch title from CSKA on final day of Premier League?

Rostov players celebrate victory in their match against Ural. © Sergey Pivovarov
The Russian Football Premier League season reaches its conclusion on Saturday with outsiders FC Rostov looking to pip CSKA to the title, in what would be a victory similar to that of England’s 5,000-1 outsiders Leicester City.

Earlier this week, Rostov ensured that the season would go to the wire by securing a narrow 1-0 home win against Ural, which canceled out CSKA’s 2-0 win against Krasnodar on the same day.  

That means Rostov go into the last round of matches on 60 points from 29 games played – two points behind league leaders CSKA.

Rostov can claim the league title through different scenarios. The simplest of these is if they win their match away at seventh-placed Terek and CSKA fail to win their game at 10th-placed Rubin Kazan.

That would mean Rostov finish on 63 points and win the league by one point from CSKA.  

In the event that Rostov win and CSKA draw, both teams would finish level on 63 points.

That would involve a more complicated scenario, but Rostov would still claim the title by virtue of a better head-to-head record against the Moscow team (the first count would be on number of games won, but both teams would be on 19, meaning head-to-head record then comes into play – which is in favor of Rostov).    

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Although CSKA are undefeated in their last seven matches and go into their game with Rubin confident of claiming the win they need, Rostov will definitely be eyeing an upset of huge proportions and a first top-flight title in the history of the club.

Indeed, if there is any team in Europe deserving of Leicester comparisons this season, it is surely Rostov.

This time last year, they found themselves in a relegation playoff against FC Tosno, and just avoided dropping out of Russia’s top-flight.

At the start of the season few – if any – commentators and fans would have given them any chance of making a push for the title.

But they have been a revelation, having already guaranteed themselves a remarkable second-place finish and a Champions League spot next season, in the process consigning big-spending Zenit St. Petersburg to third.

Their season has included stunning defeats of many of their bigger rivals, most notably a thumping 3-0 home win against Zenit St. Petersburg in April and a stirring 2-0 win against CSKA in March.

READ MORE: A tale of two underdogs: Rostov, aka ‘Leicester-on-Don,’ take Russian Premier League by storm

Under the shrewd guidance of manager Kurban Berdyev – who won two Russian titles coaching for Rubin Kazan in 2008 and 2009 – Rostov have flourished.

The Rostov team does not boast any big names to rival Zenit’s Brazilian star Hulk and Belgian international Axel Witsel, CSKA’s Russian national team players such as Alan Dzagoev, or Spartak’s Dutch star Quincy Promes.

However, Berdyev’s men are a hard-working team and can cause opponents danger with quick counter-attacks – much like English champions Leicester.

Even more remarkably, Rostov’s rise has taken place amid a backdrop of financial uncertainty. Earlier in the season it was reported that a creditor is asking for the club to be declared bankrupt, and financial questions still surround the club.

The club has also been caught up in the scandal surrounding banned drug meldonium – the substance that has led to suspensions being applied to numerous Russian athletes, including tennis star Maria Sharapova.

Media speculation stated that the club had planned to order the drug at the end of last year, Russianfootballnews.com reports.

FIFA targeted the team with a surprise doping test after Rostov’s 3-1 win over Dynamo Moscow on May 12, in an apparent response to the rumors, AP reported.

However, it was confirmed earlier this week that the 11 players tested had all returned a negative result.   

Rostov assistant coach Vitaly Kafanov responded to the rumors by saying: "I don't believe that the guys were taking banned substances," Sport Express reported. "We don't have money for even simple medicine."

None of this appears to have influenced matters on the pitch, though, as the team has mounted a campaign which has seen them lose just five league games and concede 20 goals all season.

Berdyev will be hoping his former team Rubin can do him a favor against CSKA on Saturday, but whatever happens, this season is a success of unprecedented proportions for Rostov. 

The men from the banks of the Don have certainly earned their shot at Champions League football next season. 

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