Euro 2012 Opponents Guide: Russia

After EKSTRAKLASAreview’s look at Poland’s first opponents Greece, we now head over to Russia with Slavic Football Union co-editor Domm Norris.

How is confidence in Greece/Russia/Czech Rep. ahead of the tournament?

The mood in Russia is a sharp contrast to that of four years ago, where Zenit St Petersburg’s UEFA Cup success and a true feel of a ‘golden generation’ sparked a keen sense of anticipation prior to Euro 2008. Dick Advocaat has failed to fill many with much confidence that Russia can set the tournament alight, however perhaps such deflation could lighten the load on the backs of the players. Russia still possess players of quality in the likes of Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Anyukov and Roman Pavlyuchenko – while Roman Shirokov and Igor Denisov have emerged this season as stand out performers at Zenit – the key however will be in how well Advocaat manages to extract performances from the experienced personnel who caused such a stir in 2008.

Are there any injury doubts, or players who will definitely miss the competition?

Injury doubts presently linger over Roman Pavlyuchenko and Alan Dzagoev, who both missed the end of the Premier League season, however it would take further setbacks for either player to miss out on the tournament. Sporting Lisbon’s Marat Izmailov has been included in Advocaat’s preliminary squad and should the, potentially talismanic, midfielder get the nod then it could be regarded as a significant risk thanks to his horrendous injury record over the past few seasons.

Is there a game in the group stage thats stands out as difficult or significant?

Many people have viewed this group as the least interesting in the competition, and on paper it’s easy to understand why thanks to the absence of a ‘major’ footballing power, in the ilk of Germany or Spain, however that only serves to make it even more intriguing. There’s a real sense that any nation within the group is capable of beating another and I’m sure that this will make for some competitive matches. You would likely point to Poland as being a threat within the group due to the fact that they will be on home turf and fully focussed on giving back to their public, while Czech Republic could well prove a difficult opponent, despite the problems that they encountered during qualification.

Are the key players from your country hitting form at the right time?

When you consider the key players in the Russian squad you look toward the old guard – so, Andrey Arshavin, Aleksandr Anyukov, Yuri Zhirkov and Roman Pavlyuchenko – and while these players will be influential upon Russia’s results, you have to feel as though there are others who could make a more significant impact. Alan Dzagoev and Igor Denisov could well be two ‘break out players’ from the tournament, with the latter having enjoyed a phenomenal season with Zenit, while Roman Shirokov, Denis Glushakov and Artem Dzyuba could all have an impact thanks to excellent season with their respective clubs.

Who is the key threat that we should be looking out for?

Should Advocaat manage to find a means of playing Dzagoev in his favoured role – at an attacking point in midfield – then the CSKA playmaker could well pull the strings and make Russia tick. His promise is well known across Europe, however hopefully now is the time for Europe to see what this excellent talent can do.

Are there any surprise picks in the squad?

There are no glaring surprises, however should Lokomotiv Moscow’s Magomed Ozdoev make the final squad then that will raise a few eyebrows.

What are the expectations for the tournament?

Make it out of the group.

Likely line up and formation?

Advocaat will keep his favoured 4-5-1 formation, or 4-2-3-1 as some would argue, so the team – including my preferences – could look like:
Anyukov – Ignashevich – V. Berezutskiy – Zhirkov
Denisov – Shirokov
Dzagoev – Glushakov – Arshavin
When not busy with his editorial duties at The Slavic Football Union, Domm occasionally writes for his website “Football Globe“, whilst keeping his followers updates on the Russian League via Twitter.

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