Group A: Russia – Excellent Control There

The Back of the Net team continue their build-up to Euro 2012 with individual team profiles. Here, Mark Watson – yep, him off the telly – looks beyond Poland and Ukraine to the brooding presence of Russia…

After years of mediocrity, Russia exploded into life at Euro 2008, where strike partners Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko captured the public’s imagination. Each earned a big-money move to the Premier League, where they promptly gave the public’s imagination back. At the time of writing Arshavin has completed more than 4,500 minutes for Arsenal without passing the ball, and was put out of action during the Gunners’ clash with QPR when three of his team-mates combined to bring him down just outside the box.

Tournament PedigreeRussia’s precise football history is difficult to determine, since from 1945 until the breakup of the Soviet Union access to their results was restricted to government officials. The BBC and ITV were forced to stop televising Russia’s World Cup fixtures in 1986, when Elton Welsby disappeared in mysterious circumstances after opining that the Soviets had "a bit of work to do in the second half" against Romania. He has never been seen since.

As far as can be discerned from records, though, the USSR "won every tournament contested, their spirit of comradeship triumphing over the crude capitalism of their opponents and overwhelming all foreign-funded interests. Except when Van Basten scored that wicked goal in 1988."

Road to the FinalsGuus Hiddink stood down from his position after failing to guide his side to the 2010 World Cup, but he was replaced by countryman Dick Advocaat after President Vladimir Putin commanded officials to "find me another of those funny little Dutchmen". The Russians never looked back after starting their campaign with six points, beating Armenia home and away by refusing to acknowledge their independence.

Did You Know?Oligarch Roman Abramovich is probably Russian football’s biggest name, despite the fact he never kicks a ball. As well as owning Chelsea FC, the oil billionaire’s recent acquisitions allegedly include a controlling 51% stake in the sky, meaning that no passenger plane can take off without sending him a greeting card; part-ownership of Tom Jones, ensuring that during live performances of his hit What’s New Pussycat, Jones has to replace the word ‘Pussycat’ with 'Roman'; and 50 miles of the Great Wall of China. In Season 6 of Lost, he paid a reported $50,000 to have a character say "only Abramovich can get us out of this". Sources claim that he was recently blocked in a bid to buy exclusive rights to cheese.

More from Back of the NetGroup A: Poland • Russia • Greece • Czech RepublicGroup B: Netherlands • Germany • Portugal • Denmark Group C: Spain • Italy • Croatia • Republic of Ireland Group D: Ukraine • England • France • Sweden