Semi-finalists in 2008, Russia looked to have emerged after a period of underachievement and into serious contenders in world football, looking to replicate their form of old, at European Championships. Although under the guise of USSR in the 1960’s and early 70’s – they won the tournament, finished runners-up twice, along with a semi-final appearance. The question is, can they go one better than they did in 2008?
After an impressive qualification campaign, Russia topped their group two points ahead of Ireland under Dick Advocaat, who took over from Guus Hiddink, but Advocaat will depart to coach PSV following the tournament. Defensively, Advocaat had built solid foundations with just four goals conceded in qualifying – two of those were conceded in one game – a vital 3-2 victory over Ireland in Dublin. Adovcaat’s record as manager is equally impressive, boasting an 12 game unbeaten period since February 2011. Going forward, Russia scored 17 goals in 10 games, however, a caveat to add is six of those were scored against the whipping boys of the group, Andorra.
The vast majority of Russia’s squad comes from home based sides, such as Zenit, Anzhi, and the quartet of Moscow clubs, rather than from the European leagues. Names that will be familiar to us all, such as Andrei Arshavin, – who benefitted from returning to Zenit on loan after an indifferent early season at Arsenal, along with the continually out of favour ex-Spurs striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who made a permanent move to Lokomotiv Moscow in January. On loan Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak also makes the final squad, which includes two uncapped players Vladimir Granat, Kirill Nababkin.
If anything, Advocaat is presiding over an ageing squad, with an average age of the squad being 28.3 years-old, yet it is also a settled squad and an experienced squad. Aside from the familiar names, a promising player that the Russians have in their ranks is Alan Dzagoev, their top scorer during qualification, whom made his international debut at 18 years and 116 days. Now just 21 years-old, he has already made over 100 appearances for CSKA Moscow.
In terms of ranking, the Russians are the strongest team and probably squad in Group A and should be looking to qualify as group winners. A place in the quarter-finals is a minimum, though.
Fixtures: Russia vs. Czech Republic (June, 8th), Russia vs. Poland (June, 12th) and Russia vs. Greece (June, 16th)