The Russian Premier League returned this weekend after a coronavirus-enforced hiatus and one of the first games made history.
On Friday night, fourth-placed Rostov (who fans across Europe may know from their Champions League and Europa League appearance in 2016/17) hosted 14th-placed PFC Sochi in a game some will have hoped would mark a return to normality. What ensured was anything but.
Despite taking the lead inside the opening minute through Roman Romanov, Rostov went on to lose 10-1 to Sochi, with Aleksandr Kokorin scoring a hat-trick. Elsewhere, Antonin Zabolotny and Dmitry Poloz both scored braces and Andrei Mostovoy, Ivan Novoseltsev and Nikita Koldunov also got in on the act.
But this was no ordinary shock. Beyond the fact it equalled the league’s heaviest defeat (alongside Uralan’s 9-0 loss to Lokomotiv Moscow in 2000), other extraordinary factors were outlined by Rostov in a statement issued for the benefit of English-speaking fans after the game.
Most salient of said factors was that Sochi had refused a request by Rostov to postpone the game after six of their first-team players tested positive for coronavirus, meaning their entire squad had to self-isolate.
Rostov’s statement read: “Dear friends […] A lot of supporters of our club who don’t speak Russian cannot really understand how today’s tie could end with 10-1 score.
“We would like to explain. Six players of our club have been infected with coronavirus, and thus, the entire team had to be quarantined.
“Football Club Sochi turned down our offer to postpone the match, and this is exactly why these young players aged 16-19 had to play in this match.
“The score was most likely upsetting, however, we do want you to stay on the bright side!”
Part of the “bright side” Rostov urged their supporters to embrace was the performance of 17-year-old goalkeeper Denis Popov. It may sound bizarre given he conceded 10 goals, but Popov made a Russian Premier League-record 15 saves in the match including a penalty and was named as Man of the Match.
— Russian Premier Liga (@premierliga_en) June 19, 2020
The opening goal, scored by midfielder Romanov, was described as a “mind blowing highlight”. Aged just 17 years, 83 days, Romanov became Rostov’s youngest-ever goalscorer and the fourth-youngest in the history of the Russian Premier League. Only Jano Ananidze (17 years, 8 days), Aleksandr Salugin (17 years, 27 days) and Ruslan Dzutsev (17 years, 77 days) have scored at a younger age.
Rostov continued: “We know you would agree our players were fighting for every inch of the pitch — each and every of them showed incredible character and attitude today!
“We would like to express our gratitude to everyone all the supporters of our club around the world.”
17-year-old goalkeeper Denis Popov made 15 (!) saves against PFC Sochi, including a penalty save.
PFC Sochi attempted 41 shots in total. 🤯 https://t.co/9wVcceIGER
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 20, 2020