Opening Day is always a special feeling and after two away wins, there was a palpable excitement at Cherkizovo today that was missing last season. Beautiful sunny weather, a derby against a Moscow rival, and curiousity about what this season may bring contributed to a healthy crowd of over 12,000 spectators.
The lines from the box offices were as long as I've ever seen, stretching almost all the way to the metro. In front of the locomotive engine by the stadium, a throng of fans surrounded the still-injured Jan Durica who was signing autographs. I fought my way through to take one and told him 'Ďakujem' in his native Slovak. He flashed me a big smile and answered with what I think was 'you're welcome' in Slovak. I asked him if I had said it correctly and he gladly replied, 'That's right!' I guess his English is pretty good!
Our opponents on this day, Dinamo, were looking feeble with Kokorin and the twin towers of Samba and Douglas injured. New manager Andrey Kobelev's men needed a win badly as were only only able to pick up 1 point in their first two matches with Zenit and Mordovia.
Loko, on the other hand, should have come in brimming with confidence as they had won their first two league matches away after the heartbreaking Super Cup loss to Zenit on penalties. Two changes were made from the Monday's win in Makhachkala, inserting Boussoufa and the no-longer-suspended Tarasov into the lineup.
Loko's perceived advantage in confidence didn't quite pan out in the 1st half though. A stale attack didn't threaten Dinamo much and the visitors enjoyed more possession, though also failed to create anything to meaningfully test Guilherme. In the 27th minute, Kasaev launched a ball towards Skuletic whose long range header fell right into the hands of Gabulov. That was probably our best chance of the half. Dinamo got stronger as the 1st half wore on. Valbuena ran circles around everyone else on the pitch and fed Zhirkov who smashed the ball over the crossbar, Kozlov who forced a good save from Guilherme, and finally Morozov on the stroke of halftime who headed home to give the boys in blue a 1-0 lead.
Fan favorite Alexey Miranchuk replaced the surprisingly-poor Boussoufa at halftime and Loko looked livelier. But more possession led to menacing counterattacking runs from Valbuena which fortunately didn't result in much. Much like Monday, the whole game changed with the introduction of Maicon for Skuletic in the 59th minute. Suddenly, Loko was able to stretch the field more and exploited the large swathes of grass down the left side. Finally in the 61st minute, a Kasaev free kick popped out to Samedov whose scuffed shot found Corluka alone in front of the goal. He buried it for the 1-1 equalizer!
Delvin N'Dinga came on to make his home debut in 65th minute. At this point, Loko really started to dominate and Maicon, Kasaev, and Denisov carved up Dinamo's defense. Our best chance to win was when Vitaly Denisov, who was absolutely everywhere leading attacks and blocking shots in the 2nd half, floated a long pass that found Tarasov alone at the mouth of the goal, but he headed it well over. Dinamo, sensing the turn of the tide, decided to try to waste as much time as possible, but they had the last chance to win as Valbuena stood before a free from the exact same distance that he had assisted from in Dinamo's first goal. Luckily, his success was not repeated and the match ended in a fair 1-1 draw that we'll be happier with, taking us to 7 points and 3rd place.
The fans were really incredible today and sung their hearts out for the full 90 minutes. No sign of any protesting and no anti-Olga chants. Let's hope the positivity continues.