Russia FIFA 2014 World Cup Team Guide
After topping their qualification group to claim a spot in this summer’s showcase, Russia will have to safely navigate a group including the intimidating Belgium to progress in Brazil.
Given Russia's recent performances in major competitions, their urgent need for improvement on the big stage couldn’t be greater.
Group-stage exits at their last two World Cups in 1994 and 2002 were followed by a similar slump at Euro 2012, and such anticlimaxes must be avoided this time around.
There has been visible improvement under Fabio Capello, and much will hinge on the success of their midfield three and the sharpness of those ahead of them.
Russia are a disciplined unit under the ex-England boss, and they will need a level-headed sense of unity from back to front if they’re to replicate their run to the semi-finals at Euro 2008.
Road to the Finals
With Russia and Portugal in the same qualifying group back in the summer of 2011, there was always a chance Group F would turn into a two-horse race.
And few were surprised when the pair comfortably finished first and second over two years later, ahead of Israel, Azerbaijan, Northern Ireland and Luxembourg.
Russia’s campaign got off to the best possible start, with four straight victories propelling them to the top of the pile, but two 1-0 defeats in a row to Portugal and Northern Ireland halted their progress.
Those setbacks, however, lit a fire under Fabio Capello’s men, who dropped just two points in their remaining four fixtures to finish top of the table ahead of Paulo Bento’s Portuguese.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov netted five goals during the campaign to finish top scorer for the Russians, while Viktor Fayzulin and Roman Shirokov chipped in with three each.
In all, Capello’s side won seven, lost two and drew one from their 10 qualifying matches, and enjoyed a 100 per cent home record.
Defenders: Vasili Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Dynamo Moscow), Andrey Yeshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Sergey Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Alexey Kozlov (Dynamo Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Terek Grozny), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow).
Midfielders: Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Zhirkov (Dynamo Moscow), Alexey Ionov (Dynamo Moscow), Pavel Mogilevets (Rubin Kazan), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Viktor Faizulin (Zenit St Petersburg), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (Krasnodar).
Forwards: Maxim Kanunnikov (Amkar Perm), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Alexander Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow)
For a complete, player-by-player guide to Russia’s squad, click here.
Manager Profile: Fabio Capello
The 67-year-old not only has a glittering honours list, including La Liga and Serie A titles, he also boasts direct experience of managing at a World Cup—experience that could prove priceless.
Russia’s failure at Euro 2012 prompted a change of direction from the country’s football union, and since installing Capello, they have lost only twice.
The Italian has had a steadying influence so far, forging a strong team ethic built mainly on home-based players, and if those principles pay off, "Don Fabio" could deliver a summer to remember.
Star Man: Alan Dzagoev
While the likes of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and midfield anchor Roman Shirokov will have big parts to play in Brazil, the invention and vision of Alan Dzagoev could be key to Russia’s success.
The 23-year-old playmaker has fallen in and out of favour under Fabio Capello, but given the opportunity, his link-up play with Shirokov, Viktor Fayzulin and Alexander Kokorin could be hugely profitable.
Dzagoev's three-goal haul at Euro 2012 put him in esteemed company as joint-top scorer, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Gomez and Fernando Torres, to name but three.
And in the absence of Andrey Arshavin, who was omitted by Capello, Dzagoev’s natural attacking instincts could bring the best out of Russia—if he’s given the chance.
One to Watch: Alexander Kokorin
In what will be his first-ever World Cup, Alexander Kokorin will carry the no-fear mentality that has made him a pivotal member of Russia’s squad of late.
Having netted four times in seven starts during qualifying, the 23-year-old is no stranger to scoring goals at international level, and his confident approach will be welcomed.
With the possible exception of Belgium, who will start as favourites, Russia's Group H games should be open affairs, and that will work in the striker’s favour.
The Dynamo Moscow forward plays with a spring in his step, and such energy and enthusiasm could bring big rewards for Kokorin and his teammates.
World Cup Record
Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the USSR held a proud World Cup history dating back to their first appearance at the competition in Sweden in 1958.
Having reached the quarter-finals in their debut tournament, they repeated the feat four years later in Chile before losing out to the host nation in the last eight.
In 1966, however, they went one better, reaching the semi-finals in England, having topped a group that included Italy and much-revered underdogs North Korea.
The Soviets would go on to finish fourth, after losing the semi-final to West Germany before losing the third-place play-off to Eusebio’s Portugal.
Another last-eight appearance was achieved in Mexico in 1970, but they had to wait a further 12 years for their next big stage appearance in 1982 in Spain, where they exited at the second group stage under Valeriy Lobanovskyi.
A 6-0 victory over Hungary and a win against Canada ensured their progress in 1986 in Mexico, before Lobanovskyi’s men were sent home in extra-time versus Belgium.
And in what was to be their last-ever appearance as the USSR at Italia '90, they crashed out at the group stage once more after defeats to Romania and Argentina.
Record as Russia
USA 1994: Group stage
Manager: Pavel Sadyrin
Top Scorer: Oleg Salenko (six goals)
Results: Brazil 2 Russia 0, Sweden 3 Russia 1, Russia 6 Cameroon 1
Japan and South Korea 2002: Group stage
Manager: Oleg Romantsev
Top Scorer: Yegor Titov, Valery Karpin, Vladimir Beschastnykh and Dmitri Sychev (one goal each)
Results: Russia 2 Tunisia 0, Japan 1 Russia 0, Belgium 3 Russia 2
Russia v South Korea
Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba
Belgium v Russia
Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro
Algeria v Russia
Arena da Baixada, Curitiba