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The former England boss has taken on a big job in trying to rejuvenate an aging and somewhat unpopular squad, but his first selection suggests he is on the right track

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By Marcus Haydon

Fabio Capello's appointment as the new coach of Russia was heralded as a critical moment for the country's football. With failure at the recent European Championship still fresh in the mind, the Italian's arrival is expected to spark a refreshment of the squad as it bids for a place at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.

In the build-up to his first game in charge, a friendly against Cote D'Ivoire in Moscow this Wednesday, the Russian public were eager to see the extent of the changes in his first squad selection. The answer, in typical Capello style, was firm but modest.

There are no swathing changes, with the only controversial absentee being Yuri Zhirkov, who, rumours suggest, may have been omitted following a request from his club Anzhi Makhachkala relating to a recent injury. That excuse does seem tenuous, though, when you consider that Zhirkov completed a full game for Anzhi against CSKA Moscow on Sunday afternoon.

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Zhirkov apart, the only major changes have been due to age. Konstantin Zyryanov and Igor Semshov – stalwarts of the Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat regimes – will be 36 years old come the next World Cup and have accordingly been left out. The team's captain, Andrey Arshavin, has retained his spot for now, but the question of whether or not the Arsenal attacker will keep the armband remains unanswered.

It is believed that Capello recently flew to Germany, where Arsenal were preparing for a friendly match with Koln, especially to speak to the player in person. Arshavin's status has been severely dented by the disrespectful comments he made about Russia supporters following the side's premature exit from the Euros.

CAPELLO'S FIRST RUSSIA SQUAD
Goalkeepers
Akinfeev
Malafeev
Shunin
Defenders
Anyukov
A. Berezutsky
V. Beretzutsky
Ignashevich
Shennikov
Burlak
Yeshchenko
Midfielders
Kombarov
Bilyaletdinov
Bystrov
Denisov
Dzagoev
Fayzulin
Glushakov
Ozdoev
Samedov
Shirokov
Arshavin
Attackers
Kerzhakov
Kokorin
Pavlyuchenko
Age
26
33
25

29
30
30
33
21
22
28

25
27
28
28
22
26
25
19
28
31
31

29
21
30
Club
CSKA
Zenit
Dinamo

Zenit
CSKA
CSKA
CSKA
CSKA
Lokomotiv
Lokomotiv

Spartak
Spartak
Zenit
Zenit
CSKA
Zenit
Lokomotiv
Lokomotiv
Lokomotiv
Zenit
Arsenal

Zenit
Dinamo
Lokomotiv
The reaction to the squad announcement has been one of quiet optimism, albeit with many waiting to see whether Capello will give the new recruits opportunities to break into the side. Wednesday's friendly is their only preparation for the World Cup qualifiers against Northern Ireland and Israel in early September, meaning that the temptation to retain the tried and tested senior players will be very strong. The Russian public's patience for such a status-quo has, however, been exhausted by the failures of 2010 and 2012."Slightly rejuvenated" was Sovetsky Sport's verdict on Capello’s maiden squad, pointing out that the Italian has lowered the average age of the list from 28.35 (under Advocaat at Euro 2012) to 26.96. A marked injection of youth has come in defence, where CSKA Moscow's Georgi Shennikov and Lokomotiv pairing Taras Burlak and Andrey Eschenko have been included alongside the familiar names of the Berezutsky brothers, Aleksandr Anyukov and Sergei Ignashevich. Capello also found space for Lokomotiv's mobile 19-year-old midfielder Magomed Ozdoyev, who has impressed at club level over the last year.

In terms of potential stylistic changes, there has been a clear shift in the number of orthodox wide midfielders included, with Vladimir Bystrov, Victor Fayzulin and Alexander Samedov all selected. At club level, all three tend to stay very wide, looking to provide penetration and deliveries from those areas. Since Hiddink's appointment in 2006 (and particularly under Advocaat), Russia have tended to stay quite narrow in the final third, with the wide attackers coming inside and the width provided by Anyukov and Zhirkov from full-back. The fatigue evident in these two during the European Championship has perhaps influenced Capello's plans.

Huge challenges lie ahead for Russia's new coach, who has inherited an aging team with poor links to the country's national youth set-up. But, for many, simply the fact that he is prepared to give some new blood a chance already places him a rung above his predecessor Advocaat.

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