Zenit St. Petersburg kicks off the Russian Football Premier League season with an away game in Khabarovsk against local side SKA, and it is not an easy trip to make. Khabarovsk is the second largest city in the Far East, and it is located just 30 kilometers from the Chinese border, and the trip from St. Petersburg is more than 6,000 kilometers.
For SKA, the game against Zenit will be their first ever in the top flight since the foundation in 1946, and Lenin Stadium is expected to packed for this historic event.
Some fans of Zenit will recognize the name, SKA, as the same as it of SKA St. Petersburg, the ice hockey team, and the two clubs are actually on good terms. Both of them belonged to the armed forced of the Soviet Union, something that can also be seen in the logo with the giant red star. Because of history as an army club, SKA also has friendly relations with CSKA Moscow as well as SKA Rostov, the historic football club in Rostov-on-Don.
SKA’s squad doesn’t boast any household names, and their signings this summer have all come from lower league Russian clubs. On top of this, they have lost some of their more experienced players as both Pavel Karasev and Igor Udalyi have moved southwest to Anzhi Makhachkala.
One of the profiles in the squad is the 24-year-old striker Juan Lescano. As a youngster, the Argentinian played for both Real Madrid and later Liverpool, but since 2013, he has plied his trade in Russia, firstly for Yenisey Krasnoyarsk, and now for SKA, whom he joined before last season. The striker scored eight goals last season, and there is a lot of pressure on him to perform well this season.
Head coach of the side is 45-year-old Aleksey Poddubsky, a Khabarovsk native. He played for SKA for the majority of his active career, where he made 450 appearances, and in 2013 he joined the coaching staff at the club as an assistant. He was put in charge at the end of last season, and guided SKA to promotion after a play-off victory against Orenburg.
SKA’s greatest strength however is neither the players nor the coach, but rather geography. Being located several thousand kilometers away from all of their opponents, any team travelling to Khabarovsk will be in for a tough game because of the location. This was proved last season, when Spartak Moscow travelled to Khabarovsk with their strongest squad for a cup game, and was defeated. If SKA wants to survive in the RFPL, they’ll need to fortify Lenin Stadium, and pick up their points at home.
This is because the location can also be said to be the club’s greatest weakness, as the long travels for all away games not only takes its toll on the players, but also on the finances of the club.
The Army Men from SKA appears to have their full squad ready for the clash against Zenit, and hopes to make their debut in the top flight a memorable one.
Thanks to Toke, head man over at russianfootballnews.com/ for the preview.