Russia hopes aided by in-form Arshavin

MOSCOW - An artificial pitch and an in-form Andrei Arshavin could pose the biggest challenges for Germany as they seek to secure automatic World Cup qualification in their top-of-the-table clash with Russia on Saturday.

The Germans lead Russia by a point in Group Four and will clinch a place at next year's finals with a win in Moscow while a draw would also leave them in the driving seat as they host eliminated Finland in their last match in Hamburg.

The home team need victories in both of their remaining qualifiers to assure themselves of a trip to South Africa. They travel to Baku to take on last-placed Azerbaijan on Wednesday.

Russia captain Arshavin has scored two goals in his last two matches for Arsenal since coming back from groin and knee injuries and the Germans are well aware of his threat.

"He's a genius and has an unbelievable efficiency. We must stay wide awake and never let him get away," Germany coach Joachim Loew said of the slightly-built forward.

The Russians, who have never beaten Germany or West Germany in a competitive match, including the days of the Soviet Union, will need Arshavin at his best if they are to win at the Luzhniki arena.

The stadium's artificial turf has caused problems for a number of visiting teams in the past.

Russia have not played at Luzhniki since the shock 2-1 win over England in a Euro 2008 qualifier two years ago that paved the way for their qualification at England's expense.


Tottenham Hotspur striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who scored both Russia's goals against England in that match, is likely to start on the bench, however, as he has not seen much action for his London club in recent weeks.

With second place in the group already secured, confident Russia coach Guus Hiddink feels the capacity 80,000-strong home crowd will help his team to another memorable victory.

"It would be great to see a full house again. We've already secured a playoff spot so we can take more risks in the attack," the Dutchman said. "This is the most important game of the year for us and we'll do whatever we can to get a win."

His German counterpart was equally determined.

"We know that our chance is in Moscow and we want to take it," Loew said. "Russia had an excellent Euro 2008 and have been performing well since then. They haven't won all their games convincingly but they've always got the necessary points."

Germany captain Michael Ballack shared his coach's view.

"The German team has a special mentality," said the Chelsea midfielder. "We always concentrate in the important games. We are sure that we will qualify directly."

The Germans will miss VfB Stuttgart pair Serdar Tasci and Sami Khedira through injury while first-choice goalkeeper Robert Enke has been ruled out with illness.

Swiss referee Massimo Busacca will also be in the spotlight after he was banned for three games for making an insulting gesture to fans at a local league match last month.

Probable teams:

Russia: Igor Akinfeyev; Alexander Anyukov, Sergei Ignashevich, Vasily Berezutsky, Renat Yanbayev or Yuri Zhirkov; Igor Denisov, Sergei Semak, Vladimir Bystrov, Konstantin Zyryanov; Andrei Arshavin, Pavel Pogrebnyak or Alexander Kerzhakov

Germany: Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Heiko Westermann, Marcel Schaefer; Michael Ballack, Thomas Hitzlsperger; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski; Mario Gomez

Referee: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland).