10 Things You Need to Know About Fabio Capello's Russia
With the first game of the 2014 World Cup just two weeks away, Fabio Capello is putting the finishing touches to his Russia squad ahead of their Group H opener.
Pooled together with South Korea, Algeria and much-fancied Belgium, the draw could have been much harsher on the former England boss, but he will take nothing for granted.
Qualification for the round of 16 will mark a vast improvement on their last two appearances at football’s top table, where they crashed out in the group stages in 1994 and 2002.
So with expectations high ahead of the Brazil showcase, Bleacher Report takes a look at 10 things you should know about Capello’s Russia before the competition gets underway.
Russia Are a Tough Nut to Crack Under Capello
They may have a rather embarrassing World Cup record of late, but under Fabio Capello, Russia have found a vein of stability that could put them in good stead this year.
A failure to qualify for the 2006 and 2010 competitions left a bad taste in the mouths of their proud support, but confidence has been lifted this time around thanks to the Italian’s influence.
In his 18 games in charge since taking over in July 2012, Russia have suffered only two defeats, both of which came during qualification for Brazil against Portugal and Northern Ireland.
Brazil 2014 Could Be Aleksandr Kokorin’s Shop Window
On the goalscoring front, 2013-14 has been the most successful of Aleksandr Kokorin’s career, and the striker is determined to take that form into the World Cup.
For his club, the Dynamo Moscow forward netted 10 times in 23 appearances, while four more were added in the red of Russia, including three during qualifying.
The 23-year-old will play an integral role in Fabio Capello’s attack this summer, and he looks to have secured a starting berth ahead of the vastly experienced Aleksandr Kerzhakov.
And should his scoring streak continue in Brazil, Dynamo will have to brace themselves for some serious interest in Kokorin, who could be courted by Europe’s big hitters.
A Case for the Defence?
While the likes of Alan Dzagoev and Oleg Shatov add a touch of flair to Russia’s side, success in their Brazilian adventure will hinge on their stubbornness at the back.
As club manager with AC Milan during the 1990s, Fabio Capello marshaled some of the best defenders in the business, including Italian legend Paolo Maldini and French World Cup winner Marcel Desailly.
And in his current role, the 67-year-old can call on Russian football’s finest centre-back pairing in the shape of CSKA Moscow duo Vasili Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich.
Factor in CSKA goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev—the 2013 Russian Premier League Player of the Year—and it’s easy to see why they conceded just five times in 10 Group F qualifying fixtures.
Capello’s English Lessons Will Benefit Russia
Ahead of the World Cup this summer, Fabio Capello is a picture of calm—a far cry from the anxious, overstretched man who led England to South Africa in 2010.
The Italian was heavily criticised following his team’s calamitous tournament four years ago, and fingers were pointed at the hard-line approach to his squad’s preparation.
At the time, The Guardian’s Richard Williams wrote: “Brought up in the Italian football culture, Capello has always put his trust in the ritiro: the sequestering of players in an hotel for a day or two before a match. Extending the concept to the several weeks of a World Cup campaign, however, proved disastrous.”
Fast-forward to today, however, and the 67-year-old appears to have learned his lesson. According to the Daily Express’ John Dillon, the ex-Juventus boss is said to “cut a much more relaxed figure than he ever did in England, even appearing on talk shows on Russian television.”
Capello said: “I don't want to go to Brazil too early - to avoid the pressure there. Every single detail at the World Cup is important and may influence the team's fate.”
Alan Dzagoev Must Stand and Deliver
Before 2012’s European Championships, Alan Dzagoev’s name was being bandied about in relation to some of Europe’s biggest clubs, and with good reason.
After the competition, having finished joint top scorer alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mario Balotelli, it seemed a matter of time before a big-money move would materialise.
Two years on, however, the 23-year-old playmaker remains on CSKA Moscow’s books, and over the next few weeks his creative credentials will be on trial for all to see.
The 23-year-old’s talent and comfort in possession is obvious, but his ability to influence games on the big stage is up for debate, and Capello’s patience could wear thin if he doesn’t produce the goods.
Russia Have Half an Eye on 2018
After securing the right to host the 2018 World Cup, thoughts quickly moved to on-field matters for Russia and how they might fare on home soil.
The omission of Andrey Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko from this summer’s squad suggests Fabio Capello is focusing on the future as well as the matter in hand.
An aging back four will need almost entirely replacing, as will one or two figures in midfield, and the manager’s mixture of youth and experience is designed to aid that transition.
Plus it's no coincidence that Maxim Kanunnikov and Pavel Mogilevets were handed their debuts in this week's friendly win over Slovakia.
Capello has announced he will retire after the 2018 tournament, as reported by the Mirror’s Simon Austin, and the decorated boss will want to go out with a bang.
4-3-3 Could Be the Key
On paper at least, it looks like there are goals to be had in Group H, and Russia could well be among them if they take the game to the likes of Algeria and South Korea.
While a slightly more conservative approach may be required against the uber-talented Belgians, Fabio Capello has the players to make a positive formation count.
With a solid base at the back and midfield anchors such as Viktor Fayzulin and skipper Roman Shirokov, inventive talent would be encouraged via Alan Dzagoev in the No. 10 role.
And if Alexander Samedov and Oleg Shatov provide the right amount of width, a high-tempo approach from Capello’s men could prove too much for the group’s weaker opponents.
Revenge Won’t Be Far from Capello’s Thoughts
Not that England fans will need reminding, but the last time Fabio Capello took charge of a team during a World Cup finals, the outcome was far from favourable for the Italian.
The Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein was the scene of a 4-1 defeat to Germany that sealed his team’s exit in South Africa.
As fate would have it, progress from Group H in Brazil this summer could see Russia paired against the Germans in the round of 16, and "Don Fabio" will have revenge in mind.
Defeat four years ago called his tactics and motivation skills into question, and the 67-year-old would love the chance to right a few wrongs.
Roman Shirokov Lines Up One Final Starring Role
Whisper it quietly, but 2014 could mark Roman Shirokov’s last appearance at a World Cup finals, and he won’t need any more motivation than that to play his part.
Though the Russian skipper would love nothing more than to represent his country on home territory in 2018, the midfielder will be 36 by the time the next tournament rolls around.
The tenacious Zenit St. Petersburg man, who has suffered an unsettled season that included a loan spell with Krasnodar, is a key figure in the middle of the park for Fabio Capello’s men.
And given the opportunity, Shirokov would love nothing more than to bow out on a high in Brazil.
The Bare Facts
Fabio Capello’s appetite for organisation and solidity suits Russia down to the ground, and there is a mental strength about the side that has been sorely missing in previous World Cups.
That the majority of his players are home-based works in the Italian’s favour and can only bolster the kind of team spirit necessary to progress in the biggest competition of all.
The spine of his team are all familiar with one another, and thanks to years of managing at the highest level, Capello will aim for the round of 16 at the very least.
A strong showing is long overdue, but if Russia can repeat the kind of form that saw them top their qualifying group, there’s every chance they can rattle a few cages.