Just one race has been held at the FIS Nordic Ski Championship and I'm very pleased to say that Russian skiers have coped with the task to beat biathletes' result they established at the world meeting in Nove Mesto.
Let's remind our listeners that just one shooting skier Anton Shipulin managed to win awards for his country in the Czech Republic earlier this month. Shipulin completed the podium in the men's pursuit and later added one more medal to his record by finishing second in mass-start. So Russia's achievement at the world meeting amounted to just two awards.
The start of the season's most significant competition for skiers turned out to be triumphant for the Russians, as the 2010 Olympic champion Nikita Kriukov set the winning pace for the rest of his compatriots by dominating the individual classic sprint on Thursday.
Nikita Kriukov posted the fastest time in qualification securing a great starting position in the final stage of the sprint event. Notably all 4 representatives of Russia including Alexander Panzhinskiy, Dmitry Yaparov and Mikhail Devyatyarov finished in the top 30 and automatically progressed into the quarterfinals. Plus women's quartet of Natalya Matveeva, Yulia Ivanova, Evgenia Shapovalova and Anastasia Dotsenko were also in the hunt for the coveted title.
But when elimination races began Russia's hopes to battle for top places started melting as one by one national skiers lost chances to qualify for the semifinal. Nikita Kriukov happened to be the sole Russian to remain in contention for gold after quarterfinal races. All his teammates including the holder of Olympic silver medal Alexander Panzhinskiy left the competition empty-handed.
The reigning Olympic champion in this discipline Nikita Kriukov went further by winning his respective semifinal and booking a spot in the decisive race where the fierce battle for awards unfolded between the prominent Norwegian skier Petter Northug, Alex Harvey of Canada and of course Nikita Kriukov of Russia.
Krukov took the lead from the opening metres of the 1.5 K race and was very quick to respond to Emil Jonsson's spurt at the final uphill. Kriukov and Northug were fast to react and prevented the world cup leader's plans to create a serious gap before the finish.
Nikita Kriukov defeated one of the best finishers of all times Petter Northug at the final stretch and claimed his first victory at the world championships. Northug crossed the finish line three tens of a second behind and Alex Harvey of Canada settled for bronze. The current sprint world cup leader Emil Jonsson of Sweden was 4th.
The world champion in classic sprint commented on his tremendous success in the following way: "I'm very happy to win gold today. I would like to dedicate this victory to my country. The world championship is the only competition where you can prove you are the strongest skier and it's a great honor for me to be called the best sprinter. It's amazing that I won the Olympics and now I took gold at the worlds, but honestly i would like to please my fans at every start that I take part in" Nikita Kriukov said after his golden finish in Italy.
In the women's 1.2-kilometer classical event, Marit Bjoergen of Norway finished in 3 minutes, 16.6 seconds defending her world crown in sprint. Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden was 2.3 seconds behind and Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway won the bronze.
The second race of the world championship that is scheduled to take place on Saturday is called skiathlon where half of the distance is crossed with classic style and another one is skied with freestyle. Russian are hoping that Kriukov's success will inspire the entire squad and they will continue harvesting awards in Val di Fiemme. We will bring you the results of the men's and women's skiathlon races on Monday.
Let’s kick it off with football and fantastic news for all the Russian fans. All three teams in contention for the Europa League title have made it to the last 16 stage of the tournament… downing teams like Liverpool and Atletico Madrid in the process. So we will tell you exactly how they managed to achieve that in this edition of our program.
Rubin 0-1 Atletico (2-1)
Ok, starting with the first match which was held in the Russian capital between the country’s former back to back champions Rubin Kazan and Europa League title holders Atletico Madrid. Kurban Berdyev’s men had a more than comfortable cushion after claiming a 2-0 victory in the first leg of the contest in Madrid. So all they had to do was try and prevent the Spanish side from scoring.
Well, they almost managed to do that and kept the ball out of their net for 84 minutes. But Atletico’s Colombian forward Falcao then reduced the deficit to just one goal and set up a very nervy ending to this tie. The defending champions then tried to pull out all stops to equalize but Rubin stood firm and did not let Europa League’s top scorer from the last two seasons – Falcao, get close to Sergey Ryzhikov’s goal.
So Rubin are now through to the round of last 16 where they will face another Spanish side Levante… but unfortunately they will have to do without their captain César Navas who was shown a straight red card in the dying moments of the match against Atletico when he fouled on Falcao. But we will leave the selection of the color on the referee’s conscience in this case.
Liverpool 3-1 Zenit (3-3)
Let’s cross over to England now where Russian champions Zenit faced a tough challenge in Liverpool. Just like Rubin, Luciano Spaletti’s men also claimed a 2-0 victory in their respective first leg last week. But their second match was a much tougher affair. After all Zenit played at the legendary Anfield stadium in Liverpool where the fans are known to passionately support their team until the final whistle.
Zenit’s head coach Luciano Spaletti said before the match that Liverpool will be looking for a fast goal; however it was almost the opposite. Brazilian striker Hulk made things much more difficult for Liverpool when he opened the score almost 20 minutes into game and made the aggregate 3-0 to Zenit. The hosts now needed to score 4 unanswered goals in order to progress to the next stage.
Yes and they almost succeeded in doing just that thanks to a couple of free kicks by Luis Suárez and a strike by Joe Allen. However the penultimate fourth goal was eluding the Reds as Zenit was desperately trying to hang on. And that’s exactly what they did as the referee blew the whistle registering a win for Liverpool. But despite the 3-3 aggregate score, Hulk’s away goal helped Zenit qualify for the last 16 stage of the Europa League where they will face Swiss side FC Basel 1893.
Hannover 96 1-1 Anzhi (2-4)
And finally let’s go to Germany where Anzhi Makhachkala led by the renowned head coach Guus Hiddink faced Bundesliga side Hannover 96. The Dagestan outfit also had a two goal lead after the first leg, just like their other Russian counterparts Rubin and Zenit. That advantage however was a little shaky, since Anzhi did concede a goal in Moscow last week. So Hannover could have scored just two, provided their goalkeeper registered a shut-out, and moved into the next round.
But it was scoreless until the 70th minute when the hosts finally broke the deadlock thanks to a strike by Sergio da Silva Pinto. The goal was definitely a morale booster for the German side as they frantically charged Gabulov’s territory. But Guus Hiddink’s men stood firm and even managed to equalize matters in this tie.
That’s right, substitute Lacina Traore finished off Hannover challenge well into overtime, helping Anzhi book a spot in the round of last 16 where they will face the English Premier League’s Newcastle. Congratulations to all of the Russian teams and let’s hope they will continue impressing their fans in the following rounds of the Europa League. Who knows, perhaps we could see an all Russian final this year? But let’s not jump the gun just yet and simply wish all of them to make it to the last 8.