The match between FC Sochi and FC Rostov continued despite the latter’s team being struck by six positive coronavirus tests before the match. The positive tests meant that the entire Rostov senior team needed to be quarantined, according to a club statement explaining their 10-1 defeat.
Before the match at Sochi’s Fisht Olympic stadium, Rostov was fighting for a place in the UEFA Champions League, while Sochi was involved in a relegation battle.
Rostov asked Sochi to postpone the match, but the team refused and was therefore forced to line up a team of young players aged 16 to 19.
The youth took an unlikely lead from the first minute when 17-year-old Roman Romanov scored, making him the youngest goal scorer in club history. He is also the third youngest goalscorer in the history of the Russian Premier League.
However, at halftime, Sochi had taken a 4-1 lead and scored six more goals in the second period.
“The score was most likely upsetting. However, we want you to stay on the safe side!” Rostov wrote, noting that 17-year-old goalkeeper Denis Popov had been named man of the match after making an league record with 15 saves, including a penalty.
“We know you will agree that our players were fighting for every inch of the field – each of them showed incredible character and attitude today!” Rostov wrote in the message to the fans.
Even before the match, Sochi had received a lot of criticism after posting a controversial article on his official Instagram account on Friday.
“The whole country will be rooted for schoolchildren! We were all schoolchildren once. Today, let’s just play football. The ground is flat. The ball is round. Play until mom comes home “, says the legend.
“PS @fcrostov it’s just a joke for f ** k, and it’s on our conscience.”
Sochi then removed the post, but came for more criticism for his refusal to rearrange the game and the subsequent treatment of his young opponents.
Russian sports reporter Vasily Utkin said the match was “a real scandal”.
“All of Europe is laughing at us,” he said in a video posted to his personal YouTube channel.
Utkin said the fact that the match was played out worked against the interests of the league.
Sergey Silkin, ex-coach of FC Dynamo Moscow and former player, also criticized Sochi.
“What I saw in the Sochi-Rostov match is a joke. The championship must be played in combat-ready teams,” he told the official RIA Novosti news agency.
“Yes, the situation is very complicated and extraordinary, but leaders have to come out of it differently.”
Silkin called on league officials to do more to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
However, Sochi owner Boris Rotenberg, a childhood friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, defended the actions of his club.
The clubs had agreed not to reorder games due to time constraints, and any club in Sochi’s position would have played the game, Rotenberg told TASS news agency, adding that his team had played professionally.
“If we were sorry for the young people, they would not understand that, because when you fight with a stronger opponent, the more effort he makes to beat you, the more chances you have to progress.”
It was the teams’ first game after a game stoppage due to coronavirus, and there are nine games left in the season.
The massive defeat means that Rostov is now 15 points behind championship leader Zenit St Petersburg, in fourth place. The top three teams qualify for a place in the Champions League.
Sochi is indeed a feeder team for Zenit, which is Putin’s home team.
Sports journalist Utkin spoke of the long friendship between Putin and Rotenberg in his video, and the connection was also discussed by American sports journalist Slava Malamud, whose Twitter feed on the game and the circumstances behind it surround has gone viral.
Rotenberg’s claim that Sochi could not have delayed the match was also questioned by the postponement of FC Krasnodar’s match against Dynamo Moscow.
Krasnodar and league officials have agreed to postpone the match to July 19 after the Dynamo team went into quarantine after positive coronavirus tests, according to a league statement on Sunday.
Russia has been one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic – ranking only behind the United States and Brazil in the number of Covid-19 cases. It has reported more than 590,000 infections and more than 8,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University count.
CNN’s Nathan Hodge and Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.