Of Guus Hiddink's 20 Men, Who Has Something To Prove Against Argentina?
In two weeks time, Diego Maradona and his highly-skilled Argentina side will march into Moscow for what figures to be a major measuring stick for Russia.
Now granted, the match is only a friendly and will count for next to nothing in terms of World Cup qualifying. But for some of the men hand-picked by Guus Hiddink, it will be anything but a friendly as they attempt to solidify, or earn, a place on the roster for South Africa.
The squad selected for the Aug. 12 match at Lokomotiv Stadium will feature some of the same faces that trounced Finland 3-0 in June, and several new ones making it back to the roster. Let's take a look.
Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow): Akinfeev has been the starting national keeper since he was a teenager, and has currently not allowed a goal in over 420 minutes of international play. It would take a miracle for anyone else to overtake him for the top job.
Verdict: Absolutely nothing to prove and will most likely only play a half.
Vladimir Gabulov (Dynamo Moscow): Gabulov is often looked at as the third goalkeeper for the Russian national team, behind Zenit St. Petersburg's Vyacheslav Malafeev. But as Malafeev has had injury problems recently, Gabulov will take his place.
Verdict: His job is anything but safe. Needs to have a solid performance or Hiddink will be looking much closer at Sergei Ryzhikov of Rubin Kazan, who has been in excellent form.
Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow): Ignashevich has been the centerpiece of Russian defense for the past few years and shares an effective bond with CSKA teammate Akinfeev. He is the most capped defender on the roster by a mile but isn't getting any younger.
Verdict: His spot is very safe. But chances are, Hiddink will be looking for a potential future replacement for him, so it is doubtful he plays much (if at all) against Argentina.
Aleksandr Anyukov (Zenit St. Petersburg): Anyukov was not available for the match against Finland due to suspension, but his place is virtually untouched. He is the most gifted of right backs that Russia has, playing a very similar style to Spain's Sergio Ramos.
Verdict: He is nearly a lock due to lack of positional competition.
Denis Kolodin (Dynamo Moscow): The Human Howitzer has not been a full-time starter, as Hiddink generally rotates him with the Berezutskiy brothers. Kolodin is another gifted defender in attack, but from distance instead of the wings.
Verdict: His defense could use some work, but his spot is safe enough. His shot alone should earn him a spot, regardless of his performance on Aug. 12.
Vasili Berezutskiy (CSKA Moscow): The towering center back would be the one to take Kolodin's spot, because of his defensive prowess. He can be brutally effective covering the middle. His offense is average.
Verdict: Needs to have a solid match. He will be on the roster, but he is not considered one of the starting XI at the moment.
Aleksei Berezutskiy (CSKA Moscow): Vasili's twin brother, another towering central defender who plays for CSKA Moscow, he has never received the amount of caps that his brother has.
His defensive skills are more than adequate, but has never been known for offense. He has been given the captain's armband before by Hiddink, but that was only to tell a difference between him and his brother.
Verdict: Needs to have an outstanding match. And even so, he is probably a reserve.
Renat Yanbayev (Lokomotiv Moscow): Yanbayev has been the do-it-all reserve for the national team, and that has almost hurt his chances. Is he a defensive midfielder, a right back or a left back? He is a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
Verdict: He will see his time to the delight of the Lokomotiv supporters. He is an extreme long-shot at making the starting roster, but is at least assured a bench spot with almost nobody to challenge him.
Yuri Zhirkov (Chelsea): Zhirkov is a strange mix of dazzling creativity and defensive skills. His time with Chelsea should only help him even further; however, he has nothing to prove to Hiddink. He'll get an opportunity to showcase his skills for a half and then enjoy the match from the bench.
Verdict: There's only one man who might be more of a lock for the starting roster.
Vladimir Bystrov (Spartak Moscow): Denis Kolodin is known for his long-distance shots. Vladimir Bystrov is one of the fastest players in Europe. What a fitting name. He received a start against Finland and proved he was nearly impossible to slow down with the ball.
Verdict: Bystrov might get another start against Argentina, but Hiddink couldn't ask for a more electric player to come off the bench late in a match.
Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow): The wonder kid is back. At 19 years of age, Dzagoev became the youngest field player ever for Russia. And it's no mystery. Dzagoev lives to play football, and his game extremely well-rounded.
Verdict: This is his time to shine.
Sergei Semak (Rubin Kazan): The 33-year-old former captain is more than likely playing for his last World Cup, and it's unlikely that he sees the pitch against Argentina with young players pushing for spots.
Verdict: The only thing that he has to prove is if his fitness can match much younger players. His passing is certainly good enough.
Evgeni Aldonin (CSKA Moscow): A defense-first midfielder that hasn't received too many caps recently due to the emergence of younger players.
Verdict: Has a decent shot to make the team, but needs to prove that his skills aren't just in off the field leadership.
Igor Denisov (Zenit St. Petersburg): A very good reason for the decline of Aldonin might be the rise of Igor Denisov, who has improved by quantum leaps as a shut down defensive midfielder. He might be younger, but he plays with a fiery edge.
Verdict: Is a starter when he puts his heart into it.
Konstantin Zyryanov (Zenit St. Petersburg): Zyryanov might be 31, but it's hard to tell because he hasn't been around the national team very long. With seven goals in the last year, it's hard to ignore his contributions as a do-it-all midfielder.
Verdict: Virtually a lock for South Africa, will most likely be limited in his playing time against Argentina.
Igor Semshov (Zenit St. Petersburg): A small, veteran midfielder that just performs every time he's on the pitch. He might not score much, or assist on a goal, but he makes every play he needs to make.
Verdict: Same as Zyryanov.
Roman Pavlyuchenko (Tottenham Hotspur): Pav was left out of the starting line against Finland in favor of an in-form Alexander Kerhazkov. But he looked like a man possessed once he came on late in the match. An adept forward who is as good as any on the roster while in form.
Verdict: Not really fighting for a roster spot, but certainly wants to prove that he can be a major factor against a top team in the world. He will play more than he did against Finland.
Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal): The dynamic Arsenal winger was recently given the captain's armband by Hiddink and many football fans around the world will want to see a clash of Arshavin against Messi, two diminutive playmakers.
Verdict: Hiddink might be sacked if Arshavin is left off the starting roster in South Africa.
Alexander Kerzhakov (Dynamo Moscow): When it comes to the national team, Kerzhakov just scores goals. He scored six times in Euro 2008 qualifying but was left off the final roster. His return a year and a half later saw him score twice against Finland.
Verdict: Hiddink can't ignore him forever if he keeps scoring at this rate. Could we possibly see a 3-4-3 from a Russian side?
Pavel Pogrebnyak (Zenit St. Petersburg): Often looked at as Pavlyuchenko's fill-in because they both play similar styles as a center forward. Pogrebnyak may not be so fast at 93kg, but Russia have never lost when Pascha scores.
Verdict: He probably won't start, but could very well be a second-half replacement for Kerzhakov or Pavlyuchenko. Has an upper hand at making the roster over others like Dmitri Sychev, but still needs to have a good showing.
Russia will be back in action again in September, where they will face Liechtenstein and Wales at the beginning of the month. Both remain must-win matches if Russia intend on catching Group leaders Germany, who are only one point ahead at the moment.
If all goes according to plan, the duel at Luzhniki Stadium with the Germans will decide the Group winner.
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