The Russians are entering their first World Cup since their disappointing 2002 campaign and will certainly be looking to go at least one better. They were knocked out at the group stage in Japan and South Korea having been drawn in a weak looking Group H (alongside Belgium coincidentally) and failing. They have much the same lot this time with Group H looking like one of the weaker groups in the tournament so they are expected to do much better this time around.
With manager Fabio Capello looking to repair some of the damage to his reputation from the last World Cup, they are certainly motivated. Let’s see how they match up:
With Fabio Capello coming in after a disappointing Euro 2012, the Russians were drawn in a relatively simple looking Group F with Portugal, Israel, Northern Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. Russia eased through top of the group built on an outstanding defense and home record. They conceded just five goals in their 10 qualifying games and won every single home game they had. They did lose in Portugal and Northern Ireland but still finished one point clear of the Portuguese at the top of the table to qualify automatically for Brazil.
Fabio Capello recently cut his squad down to the final 23 that will go to Brazil and he is the only manager to have selected a squad comprised entirely of players from the country’s domestic league. On loan Rubin Kazan midfielder Pavel Mogilevets will travel with the squad as a standby in case of injury. The full squad looks like this:
Goalkeepers – Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow); Yuri Lodygin (Zenit Saint Petersburg); Sergey Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan)
Defenders – Vasili Berezutski (CSKA Moscow); Vladimir Granat (Dynamo Moscow); Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow); Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow); Aleksei Kozlov (Dynamo Moscow); Andrei Semyonov (Terek Grozny); Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow); Andrey Yeshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala)
Midfielders – Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow); Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow); Viktor Fayzulin (Zenit Saint Petersburg); Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow); Oleg Shatov (Zenit Saint Petersburg); Roman Shirokov (FC Krasnodar); Yuri Zhirkov (Dynamo Moscow)
Strikers – Aleksei Ionov (Dynamo Moscow); Maksim Kanunnikov (Rubin Kazan); Aleksandr Kerzhakov (Zenit Saint Petersburg); Aleksandr Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow); Aleksandr Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow)
The combative midfielder is certainly a fiery character. Perhaps more well known outside of Russia for his refusal to play at Euro 2008 or his pay dispute with Zenit, it would be easy to dismiss Denisov as nothing more than a troublemaker. That would also be a great disservice to him as Denisov is one of the key anchors in the Russian midfield. Denisov is Russia’s best midfield enforcers and he is excellent at breaking up opposition attacks and recycling possession. He will certainly have to be on top of his game to ensure Russia are solid in the centre of the park.
Just 23 years old, Kokorin (along with Alan Dzagoev) has been spotlighted as the future of Russian football. An exciting striker, he has begun to make the position his own with Russia. He does not have the most stellar goals to game ratio but he does score when it matters. He got four in qualifying for the World Cup and they were important goals at important times for Russia. Kokorin will certainly be one of the main Russian hopes in Brazil.
The most experienced member of the Russian squad, Ignashevich is undoubtedly a fine defender. Over a decade in the national team says a lot about his ability and at 34, he will be looked at to lead the defence. He will have some very dangerous strikers to contend with in Group H and will need to be at his best to ensure that Russia don’t go home early.
POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Fabio Capello has a number of interesting options in his squad for the tournament and he could possibly go with this line up. With the exciting Aleksandr Kokorin up top, Capello will likely deploy Aleksandr Kerzhakov in a slightly deeper role to add some experience up top and for Kerzhakov to find space and influence the game. On the wings, Alan Dzagoev and Viktor Fayzulin will be looked at to create and trouble the opposition full backs with the experienced captain Roman Shirokov creating from deep. Igor Denisov is in the middle of the park to protect a back four containing the experienced centre back pairing of Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski. Aleksei Kozlov is the only natural right back in the squad so gets the nod there while Dmitri Kombarov gets the nod at left back. Igor Akinfeev will continue in his role as undisputed number one for Russia.
Group H is one of the weaker groups on paper and one of the toughest to call and with the omens of 2002 lurking, it might be a tough one for Russia. However, the Russians will progress top of the group after three hard fought and low scoring games (draws with Belgium and South Korea and a 2-1 win over Algeria). They will then face Portugal (most likely) in the second round where they will be knocked out due to some individual brilliance from a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.