Russia-Finland: Sbornaja Look To Close the Gap on Germany
Germany currently sits four points ahead of the Red Army in Group Four of World Cup Qualifying. That could change very soon.
Russia has it's opportunity to put a tight squeeze on Germany's lead if they can come out of Helsinki with three points. Taking the field for the first time since April Fool's Day, Russia will do battle with Finland for the second and final time during the group stage.
Manager Guus Hiddink also returns to his day job, only a week after hoisting the FA Cup after Chelsea's 2-1 comeback victory over Everton.
Although Finland and Russia have met before, the circumstances were fairly different. The Red Army assaulted a hapless Finland squad in the friendly confines of Moscow's Lokomotiv Stadium, taking a 3-0 decision.
Aided by a Petri Pasanen own goal in the 22nd minute, the Russians shouldered off the Finns and sealed the deal, as Arsenal striker Andrei Arshavin sliced his way through defenders to score as time evaporated off the clock.
Hiddink knows that a victory on Wednesday over third-place Finland could go a long way to deciding a group that has become a two-horse race. The Finns might have something to say about that. Although Finland defeated Liechtenstein 2-1 on Saturday, it was anything but convincing.
Siena forward Mario Frick scored in the 13th minute for the Minnows' first goal in World Cup qualifying, but the Finns scored before halftime and then shortly after to seal the victory. The match was also played in Helsinki.
"I do not think the match will be like the one in Moscow. The Finns will show a different kind of football on their home grounds. They will play more confidently and aggressively," said CSKA midfielder Yuri Zhirkov.
Although Zhirkov and company won't have the luxury of of the raucous home crowd, they will have striker Roman Pavlyuchenko back up front. Zenit St. Petersburg center-forward Pavel Pogrebnyak started in his absence last October.
Team captain and most-capped Russian on the roster, Sergei Semak, who did not start against Liechtenstein, is also expected back in the midfield. Diminutive Lokomotiv Moscow 25-year-old Dmitri Torbinsky, Semak's replacement, will not be a part of Hiddink's roster.
The most notable move, however, is the addition of another striker.
Guus added veteran Aleksandr Kerzhakov to the roster.
The great 11, who will be making his first cap in over two years, has returned to Russia. Kerzhakov scored 30 goals in the 2004-2005 campaign for Zenit St. Petersburg, but he moved to Sevilla in 2006.
It has been a few days past his two-year anniversary of scoring a legendary hat trick at the Petrovsky against Andorra.
After leading all Russians in goals during Euro 2008 qualifying, he was mysteriously left off the final roster that headed to Switzerland and Austria.
Going the opposite direction, Hiddink has dropped highly experienced defenders Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Dmitry Sychev. The Lokomotiv duo, who combine for 73 total caps, will be replaced with an infusion of youth for Finland.
Some of that youth will come from 20-year-old CSKA defensive midfielder Pavel Mamaev, who will be making his first career cap.
Starting: 1 Igor Akinfeev, 4 Sergei Ignashevich, 5 Vasili Berezutskiy, 6 Aleksei Berezutskiy, 18 Yuri Zhirkov, 7 Igor Denisov, 17 Konstantin Zyryanov, 8 Igor Semshov, 11(C) Sergei Semak, 9 Roman Pavlyuchenko, 10 Andrei Arshavin
Bench: 16 Vyacheslav Malafeev, 3 Denis Kolodin, 13 Renat Yanbaev, 22 Evgeni Aldonin, 23 Vladimir Bystrov, 15 Pavel Mamaev, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, 14 Pavel Pogrebnyak
Starting: 1 Jussi Jaaskelainen, 2 Petri Pasanen, 3 Toni Kallio, 4(C) Sami Hyypia, 5 Hannu Tihinen, 7 Roman Eremenko, 10 Jari Litmanen, 15 Marcus Heikkinen, 8 Teemu Tainio, 9 Mikael Forssell, 16 Jonatan Johansson
Bench: 12 Otto Fredrikson, 13 Veli Lampi, 14 Niklas Moisander, 11 Joonas Kolkka, Roni Porokara, 6 Alexei Eremenko, 8 Daniel Sjolund, 18 Shefki Kuqi, Berat Sadik
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