Alan Arkin and Theodore Bikel must have been so proud watching Russia's national football team defeat Finland 3-0 last Wednesday in a World Cup qualifier. That dominating performance has Russia within one point of Europen Zone Group Four leader Germany.
Russia is currently ranked ninth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. Russia has not performed this well on the pitch since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Even then, the glory of the USSR teams were in the 1950s and '60s. In the World Cups held between 1958 and 1970, the USSR finished no worse than sixth.
Russia's roster appears to be filled with players with exceptional skill and athleticism. The team has a healthy mix that play domestically and abroad.
The best player on the squad is probably Andrei Arshavin, the 2006 Russian footballer of the year. Arshavin's skills were on full display during Russia's match versus Finland.
The most exquisite of touch passes led to the first goal of the match by Alexander Kerzhakov. The touch was so delicate and precise that the FSC announcer believed at first that it was just a lucky bounce of the ball that set up the goal.
Arshavin is far from being the player on Russia worth watching. Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyryanov scored the goals that enabled Zenit Saint Petersburg to win the 2008 UEFA Cup over Rangers.
By the way Vladimir Bystrov speeds around the pitch, there is no doubt that he is indeed a Russian. Because of his tremendous pace, Bystrov is the most fouled player in the Russian Premier League.
The Russian national team has also become a force again due to its depth and experience. Depending on the lineup, Russia's back line can be manned exclusively by CSKA Moscow players.
Kerzhakov's two goals against Finland might bring him a permanent place back on the national team after an absence of almost 19 months. Substitute Dmitri Sychev has been referred to as the Russian version of Michael Owen.
No matter how talented a team is, it needs to be coached properly in order to achieved the desired results. Guus Hiddink is such the manager for Russia.
Hiddink led Holland to a fourth-place finish in the 1998 FIFA World Cup and South Korea to the same finish in the 2002 World Cup. He managed Australia to a second round appearance in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Before that showing, Australia had not qualified for the tournament in 32 years.
Guus Hiddink brought Chelsea back to prominence when the side won the 2009 FA Cup over Everton under his command.
Hiddink became manager of the Russian national team in 2006. The squad began to show tremendous improvement in 2008 when he led Russia to the semifinals of the European Cup before losing to Spain.
Russia still has four matches to play in Group 4 qualifying, including a home game versus Germany in October. A win against Germany should give Russia an automatic bid to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
At the very least, Russia will finish in second place and participate in the two-legged playoffs that commence in November. Assuming Russia makes it to South Africa, their entertaining style should lead them to many positive results.
As long as Russia does not invade New England any time soon, even Americans will root for the Russian national team.
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