Russia take the next step in their path toward this summer's World Cup with a tune-up fixture against Slovakia this Monday, where they'll meet their European rivals at the Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia.
Fabio Capello's side face a tricky task in emerging from a Group H which, while not containing any stars of worldly reputation, per se, boasts a high median in talent among Belgium, Algeria and South Korea. Russia sit as favourites to clinch second spot behind Marc Wilmots' talented group of Belgians.
Monday's encounter will serve as an indicator of just how the Russians are coming along in their preparations for the biggest football event of the year, not to mention give Capello some idea of which players he would be wisest to utilise in Brazil.
Date: Monday, May 26
Time: 4 p.m. BST/11 a.m. ET
TV Info: Setanta Sports 1 (U.K.), Premier Sports U.K. (U.K.)
Players To Watch
Russia: Aleksandr Kerzhakov
Having scored 15 goals in just 11 Russia Premier League starts for his club this season, per Squawka, Aleksandr Kerzhakov remains the most likely figure to lead Capello's attack this summer.
The Zenit St. Petersburg attacker was being tipped for similar success at Euro 2012, but he failed to find the back of the net in Poland as it was instead Alan Dzagoev who shone brightest in front of goal.
Infostrada Sports indicates what a veteran of the Russian line-up the striker has proven to be:
Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit) is only player in Russia's preliminary 30-man roster to have survived from their last WC in 2002.— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) May 12, 2014
Kerzhakov has proven himself to be something of a hit-and-miss forward, going from prolific highs in his domestic game to absent performances when starring on the international stage.
Monday's visit of Slovakia is a no-pressure environment for the 31-year-old to find a scoring groove ahead of a tournament that will rely a lot on his input.
Slovakia: Marek Hamsik
And just as Kerzhakov can sometimes go missing in his endeavours, Slovakia's Marek Hamsik is a similar talent with a heavy burden upon whom his national team rely.
However, Sky Sports' Pete Graves nevertheless insists that the Napoli playmaker remains a player of immense talent:
hamsik still one of the best players i've ever seen live. certain performances u just never forget— Pete Graves (@PeteGravesSky) May 3, 2014
If this Russian defence is to be unlocked in Kazan, Hamsik will be the man holding the keys to the kingdom as far as the visiting outfit is concerned, and a great deal of how much opportunity they have on goal counts on his influence.
Roman Shirokov vs. Tomas Hubocan
Russia captain Roman Shirokov has for years been a staple of the national setup, and his presence across the attacking midfield line gives Capello a versatile and malleable asset to work with.
However, it's on the right flank and in an inside forward capacity that the 32-year-old has been used most frequently with the national team, which is likely to put him in direct contact with Slovakia's left-sided Tomas Hubocan.
Although currently on loan at Krasnodar, Shirokov has called Hubocan his Zenit teammate for going on six years now, and the pair will be extremely familiar with what it is that one another brings to the fixture.
That being said, it makes for an intriguing battle as Shirokov will seek to assert his usual passing brilliance, the Slovakian left-back and temporary enemy of his seeking to ensure those testing through balls are limited in number.