Russia: in profile
One of Euro 2008's surprise packages, Russia have unfinished business to take care of this summer as they aim to surpass their semi-final appearance in Austria and Switzerland by going one better in Poland and Ukraine.
After seeing off the threat of the Irish in qualification, and pitted against three of this summer's less-fancied sides in a very winnable Group A, it's no surprise Dick Advocaat's men are tipped to fly out of the blocks again in 2012.
European Championships have been kind to Russia, who won the first tournament back in 1960. Their record since the break-up of the Soviet Union has been less fruitful despite qualifying for three of the last four, losing to eventual winners Spain at the semi-finals in 2008.
They have also appeared at two World Cups in that time, last appearing at the finals a decade ago.
Russia recovered from their only defeat of the campaign at home to Slovakia to pip Republic of Ireland to the top of Group B by two points. Victory at Dublin in a five-goal thriller proved decisive but qualification was largely built around Russia’s watertight defence which leaked just four goals, keeping seven clean sheets in the process.
With all but two of their 23-man squad plying their trade in the Russian Premier League, few sides at this summer’s showpiece can boast as many players from their own domestic league as Russia. No fewer than 11 represent either CSKA Moscow or champions Zenit St Petersburg, both of whom reached last season’s Champions League knockout phase.
The side is very similar to the one which reached the Euro 2008 semis when marauding trio Yuri Zhirkov, Roman Pavlyuchenko and captain Andrei Arshavin made a name for themselves, earning lucrative moves to England in the process.
All have since returned home, Arshavin temporarily, while Pavel Pogrebnyak has gone the other way. The former Stuttgart striker has enjoyed a prolific debut second half to the season at Fulham, averaging a goal every other game.
The Russian winter halts play domestically every year so the three-month mid-season break could be a notable advantage for a side that will be expected to have plenty left in the tank.
Arshavin has followed the likes of Zhirkov and Pavlyuchenko back home primarily in search of more regular first-team action and will have benefited from much-needed playing time ahead of the Euros, helping Zenit to the league title in the process.
Arshavin lit up Euro 2008 while CSKA Moscow’s Igor Akinfeev also had more than a helping hand in Russia’s run to the last four. But, after only recently returning following eight months sidelined with a knee injury, stand-in goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev has staked his claim to keep the gloves this time.
Dutch coach Dick Advocaat has a wealth of experience and is no stranger to the European Championships having reached the last four eight years ago during his second stint in charge of his home nation.
The former Rangers manager secured successive league and cup doubles during three years in Scotland while ‘The Little General’ also enjoyed success in Russia prior to taking charge of the national side, guiding Zenit to UEFA Cup glory in 2008.
This is virtually the same Russia side that took Euro 2008 by storm, an experience which should stand Advocaat's men in good stead ahead of the summer.
The fact that the majority ply their trade in the motherland should also play into their hands, as well as the understanding and familiarity that comes from so many playing together on a weekly basis for club or country. At an average age of 29, though, this might be their last realistic chance of Euro glory.
With the inclusion of attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev, the Russians might also have one of this summer’s hottest prospects. Named Best Young Player in the Russian Premier League three seasons ago, the 21-year-old has also showcased his talents on the international scene, netting four goals in eight qualifiers.
Back Russia to win Group A at 6/4
For more on Euro 2012, read our unique profiles of the other competing nations: Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Holland, Portugal, Germany, Denmark, Croatia, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Ukraine, Sweden, France, England.
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