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Goal.com looks at whether Russia will qualify from Group A as they are widely expected to, or stumble at the international stage like before..

SPECIAL
By Kaustav Bera


Russia are clear favourites to progress out of Group A unscathed as under Dutch coach Dick Advocaat they topped their qualifying group. The Euro 2008 semi-finalists comprise of players mostly plying their trade in Russia, with the probable starting eleven all from the Russian Premier League. In a group filled with teams with overtly defensive tactics, Russia play a different game with their 4-3-3 attacking formation, quite different from the other teams in the group.

The return of Andrey Arshavin, who hardly found playing time or form in England, to Russia with former club Zenit St. Petersburg has been a boost as he has hit a rich vein of form. However with the peculiar playing period in Russia only in summer means the Russian players have played almost one and a half seasons due to the transition. As a r direct consequence, there have been many players returning from injuries and not fully fit.

FORMATIONS AND TACTICS

    How Russia defend


Russia's central defense is made of the CSKA Moscow pairing of Sergei Ignashevich and A Berezutskiy who are sturdy and physical defenders but are immobile and slow on the ball. Their full backs meanwhile are actually wing backs who love overlapping and attacking further up the pitch, with Zhirkov often joining in the attacking forays while the equally pacy Anyukov joining in late. Igor Denisov, part of the midfield three exclusively from Zenit ( the other two being Zyranov and Shirokov) plays the defensive screen but the midfield triangle often exchange positions among themselves with Denisov going further forward on occasions. However their wingers do not usually track back.

How Russia attack


Russia really typify a 4-3-3 while attacking. This is different from the Barcelona 4-3-3 as here the wingers, Arshavin and Dzagoev prefer coming infield to join central striker Kerzhakov, with Arshavin almost playing as the No. 10 behind him as Kerzhakov likes drifting wide and not play as a target man like Russia's other strikers, Pavlyuchenko and Pogrebnyak. Then Alan Dzagoev plays the furthest man upfront as he streams ahead of Kerzhakov. The all Zenit midfield triangle is an interesting bunch as they can exchange positions at will. Both Zyranov and Shirokov usually join the midfielders upfront with the latter proving to be a goalscorer as proved by the recent friendly where he scored a brace against the much fancied Italy. The attacking full backs are then employed to provide width and at a time when Russia attack, there can be as many as 7 Russians in the attacking third.

SWOT ANALYSIS

Strengths - Obviously their free flowing attacking is Russia's biggest strength in the otherwise cagey group. Moreover Arshavin who had a torrid season with Arsenal returned to form as he was loaned back to Zenit. The core group of almost 6 starters from Zenit itself provide an impressive core group of players similar to Vicente Del Bosque's Spain where majority of the players in the starting eleven are from Barcelona. Moreover Advocaat, who formerly coached Zenit is equally informed of their tactics. Also in 21 year old Alan Dzagoev they have a bright and talented prospect as he was Russia's highest goal scorer in qualifying.

Weaknesses -  The wingers in the 4-3-3 do not usually track back to help out of the defense. Also susceptible in the center of the park is Denisov alone as the other midfield two join the attack. He also has a knack of making cynical fouls to stop the opposition. The center backs although good on the ball are pretty slow and a fast attack can put them to the sword, especially since the full backs are often found much higher up. That Dick Advocaat has vowed to join PSV after Euro 2012 might also negatively influence Russia's chances.

Opportunities - Russia stand a clear chance to repeat their 2008 heroics and even go beyond that this time. In being placed in Group A, they could not wish for a better one as their ageing and slow defense will certainly not be tested much by the other predominantly defensive teams.

Threats - The players' fitness is an issue with almost everyone in the starting eleven playing in Russia and are not certainly 100% fit. That they are expected to easily qualify from a relatively easy group might also play on the minds of the players.

COACH IN QUOTE


“I don’t care about big names as long as they can play as a team. Everyone knows what their position is.”

- Dick Advocaat

THE VERDICT

Russia will certainly qualify from their group but whether they repeat their 2008 heroics will certainly depend on Kerzhakov getting more on the scoresheet.

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