Russia – Group H – World Cup profile

Russian football has come on leaps and bounds over the last decade and is now at a level where much is expected by the Soviet nation’s ardent fanbase.

After qualifying as pool winners ahead of Portugal, a favourable Group H line-up will mean that progression through to the round of 16 will be a bare minimum for the side.

With plenty of experience, a close-knit group and impressive youngsters coming through the ranks, Russia are more than capable of playing their part in the knockout rounds.

Confirmed squad

Unlike in previous years where Russia’s high-profile international players would head abroad to foreign clubs, the 23-man contingent to feature in Brazil all are based at home.

The nation will rely on its’ host of veterans, with a core of the group having considerable experience at national level.

However, it may well be some of the lesser-known names that can add quality to the group and act as potential surprise packages to their Group H opponents.

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Lodygin (Zenit St Petersburg), Sergey Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan)

Defenders: Vasiliy Berezutskiy, Sergey Ignashevich, Georgiy Schennikov (all CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat, Alexey Kozlov (both Dynamo Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Terek Grozny), Andrey Yeshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala).

Midfielders: Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Viktor Faizulin, Oleg Shatov (both Zenit St Petersburg), Yury Zhirkov, Alexey Ionov (both Dynamo Moscow), Pavel Mogilevets (Rubin Kazan), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow).

Forwards: Alexander Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Maxim Kanunnikov (Amkar Perm).

Notable absentees

Russia’s preparations have been rocked by the news that key midfielder Roman Shirokov is not fit to feature due to back injuries, robbing the nation of their most-influential player in the centre of the park.

Those that have headed to play club football in England and returned with hat in hand are also deemed surplus to requirements, with no place for Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Dimitar Bilyatedinov or Pavel Pogrebnyak.

Experience midfielder Vladimir Bystrov was not included in the final group either, but there is continuation from Russia’s strong qualifying campaign in the players selected.

Coach profile

Fabio CapelloRussia has had some well-respected head coaches over recent years, but Fabio Capello brings with him a distinguished career of successful management.

The former AC Milan and Real Madrid coach has been in charge of the eastern European nation since 2012 and has instilled a real sense of urgency about the side’s play.

With the Italian seemingly getting the best out of his defenders with some tricks of the trade from his homeland, Russia will be difficult to beat and have more than enough attacking potential to threaten.

Formation / tactics

An exponent of a back four, Capello’s defence is relatively settled partly due to a search for continuity but also because of a lack of reliable back-up options.

In Igor Akinfeev Russia have one of Europe’s most under-rated goalkeepers as a safe pair of hands, while seasoned central defensive pair Sergey Ignashevich and Vasiliy Berezutski are still going strong and have more than 170 caps combined.

Formation-wise Russia will start with a lone frontman, with the versatility to switch between a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 set-up depending on who they are playing and the situation they find themselves in.

Shirokov’s omission will most likely result in Viktor Faizulin getting a starting nod, who will have Igor Denisov and Denis Glushakov for company in the boiler room.

This combative and energetic trident will be charged with pressing the ball and squeezing opposition space, with quick distribution to the flanks once possession is won back.

Consideration for the lone striker role is between long-term starter Alexander Kerzhakov and up-and-coming star Alexander Kokorin; the latter will most likely command a wide berth if not used centrally.

In late bloomer Alexander Samedov Russia have an industrious and forward-thinking winger, while Oleg Shatov will also be in the reckoning for a start.

Alan Dzagoev, once labeled as Russia’s big star of the future, has seen his career go sideways over the last 18 months. This could well be his time to remind the footballing world of his unique skillset – but he may have to do it from the bench.

Key player

Igor AkinfeevIgor Akinfeev – In the absence of commanding midfielder Shirokov, Russia will need leaders and their goalkeeper is one that has to stand up and be counted.

Still only 28, the CSKA man has resisted the temptation to move abroad at club level, but has plenty of Champions League and national experience.

With few concerns over Russia when they have the ball, keeping it tight at the back will be the key to ensure they have a good run, with Akinfeev a commanding force in the defensive third.

One to watch

Alexander Kokorin – At 23, the Dynamo Moscow attacker has the footballing world at his feet, with this summer his chance to propel himself to superstar status.

His versatility to play anywhere across the frontline will mean that he will get time on the pitch, and although he usually is deployed as a left winger, there is a case building that he is best used through the middle.

A tricky player with individual ability to boot, Russia will look for Kokorin to turn impressive performances into goals in Brazil.

Prediction

Group H is looking very open, with contrasting styles and footballing mentalities across the four respective sides.

That said, Russia look to have the attacking weaponry to fire them into the round of 16 and will also be in the running to top their pool.

If some of their key players can stay fit and the side adapts to the conditions, participation in the quarter-finals is a real possibility.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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