World Cup Qualifying: All Hands on Deck for Russia, Says Guus Hiddink
Peter the Great once told us that, "A ruler that has but an army has one hand, but he who has a navy has both."
The Russian national team will pull into the port city of St. Petersburg in ten days time to face Group Four minnow Liechtenstein, but it is all hands on deck for Guus Hiddink's men.
It might only be Liechtenstein, but Hiddink has recalled every major player on the roster, including injured Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov. Although the 26-year-old midfielder played in Chelsea's American tour, he has not laced up the boots for a Premier League match to date.
Whether Zhirkov actually plays or not remains to be seen, but No. 18 will be on the bench at the Petrovsky Stadium either way.
Hiddink knows that every point is crucial if Russia wants to catch group leader Germany in the standings. As it sits right now, Russia are four points behind the Germans, but also have a match in hand. And in Russia's trip to Vaduz on April Fool's Day, the team scratched by with a 1-0 victory.
They can't afford to take that chance again and allow Liechtenstein to hang around. One mistake could potentially cost the team two points, which would almost guarantee a second-place finish.
The squad that Hiddink named will also be the same one that travels to Cardiff to face Wales.
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Dinamo Moscow), Vyacheslav Malafeev (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Defenders: Aleksandr Anyukov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Sergei Ignashevich, Vasili Berezutskiy, Aleksei Berezutskiy (all CSKA Moscow), Denis Kolodin (Dinamo Moscow), Renat Yanbayev (Lokomotiv Moscow)
Midfielders: Yuri Zhirkov (Chelsea), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Semak (Rubin Kazan), Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (Everton), Konstantin Zyryanov, Igor Semshov, Igor Denisov (all Zenit St. Petersburg), Vladimir Bystrov (Spartak Moscow), Alexei Rebko (FC Moscow)
Forwards: Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal), Roman Pavlyuchenko (Tottenham Hotspur), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Stuttgart), Aleksandr Kerzhakov (Dinamo Moscow), Alexander Bukharov (Rubin Kazan)
A few questions about Hiddink's choices.
1. Why Vyacheslav Malafeev? For Zenit, Malafeev has been for lack of a better word, horrific over the past few weeks. He even came out and publicly apologized for costing Zenit three points in their past match with Lokomotiv Moscow.
Although he has been good for a long while, it would be more fair if Hiddink gave a nod to Rubin Kazan's Sergei Ryzhikov, who has been excellent between the pipes for Russia's top club.
2. Will we actually see Zhirkov on the field? It's very doubtful, but as everyone saw in the friendly against Argentina, the absence of Zhirkov takes away a good deal from the defense. And with another defensive midfielder, Igor Denisov who went down to injury earlier in the week, the need for Zhirkov might be heightened.
The probability that he takes the field against Liechtenstein is slim, but he might well see some playing time against Wales. Travelling to Cardiff could prove to be a tricky task.
3. Will Sept. 5 be the Alan Dzagoev show? With a few men short in the midfield, Dzagoev is almost guaranteed a start. The kid has had expectations through the roof, and he has been looking for a breakthrough match on the international level.
Liechtenstein could be that match.
4. Who plays up front with Andrei Arshavin? Will it be Kerzhakov or Pavlyuchenko? Both have their pros and cons. For Kerzhakov, he is in midseason form with Dinamo Moscow while Pavlyuchenko has barely played for Spurs. But, Kerzhakov was dismal against Argentina before heading off.
Pavlyuchenko has fallen out of favor with Hiddink, as the Guus believes he should be at a club that gives him the opportunity to play every match. But he has terrific upside when he is on his game, like he was against Argentina. He could have scored three with more time.
Look for the Spurs man to see considerable time against Liechtenstein. Also look for his name on the scoresheet.
5. What can we expect from the new boys? Midfielder Aleksei Rebko and forward Alexander Bukharov will both receive their first caps for the national team. Rebko, known for his defense, has only scored twice in his career, but could play in favor of Zhirkov or Denisov.
Bukharov, at 1.91m, is the tallest striker on the roster and has a terrific header. One of the leading scorers in the Russian Premier League, he could also sneak his way into the lineup.
Possible Lineup vs. Liechtenstein: Akinfeev, Anyukov, Kolodin, Ignashevich, Yanbayev, Dzagoev, Zyryanov, Semshov, Bystrov, Arshavin (c), Pavlyuchenko
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