Russia return to scene of shock England win

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MOSCOW - Russia will seek inspiration from their shock victory over England two years ago when they take on Germany in a top-of-the-table World Cup qualifier, coach Guus Hiddink said on Tuesday.

Hiddink's young side return on Saturday to the scene of that 2-1 win which paved the way for Euro 2008 qualification at England's expense, the 84,000-seat Luzhniki arena in Moscow, to try to keep alive their chances of an automatic World Cup berth.

"We haven't played in Luzhniki since that match so it would be great to see a full stadium again. The importance, the build-up to the match, the atmosphere, it's almost the same," Hiddink told Reuters in an interview at the team's Moscow hotel.

"Then, we had to win to keep alive our chances of qualifying for the Euro 2008 finals and we did. It's a bit different this time as we've already secured a playoff spot."

"It gives us more freedom. We don't need to play for a draw so we can take more risks in the attack."

The Germans lead Russia by a point in Group Four and will clinch a place in next year's finals with a win in Moscow while the hosts need victories in both of their remaining qualifiers to assure themselves of a trip to South Africa.

A draw in Moscow would leave Germany in the driving seat as they host eliminated Finland in their last match, leaving Russia with the prospect of entering a two-leg playoff for a place at the finals.

"This is obviously the most important game of the year for us," Hiddink said. "It is also the biggest (qualifying) match in Europe this weekend that everybody wants to watch."

 

BALLACK CHALLENGE

Hiddink said he had a friendly conversation with Germany captain Michael Ballack about the upcoming clash.

"I was in London last month, visiting Chelsea and when I saw Michael he was challenging me a bit, in a nice way, saying they will beat us or at least get a draw. I just replied 'Welcome to Moscow'," the former Chelsea manager said with a wry smile.

Russia have never beaten Germany or West Germany in a competitive match including the days of the Soviet Union.

"I didn't know that," Hiddink said when asked if he knew the background.

"But I know German football and the strength of their team well enough. It's a powerhouse. The Germans have never failed to reach the World Cup finals, it says a lot about a country.

"But it doesn't mean we can't beat them," he said. "We also hadn't beaten England for a very long time until that win in Moscow. So we will approach Saturday's game with the same confidence, feeling we can get a positive result."

One thing worrying Hiddink a little is the form of Roman Pavlyuchenko. The Tottenham Hotspur striker, who scored both Russia's goals against England in Moscow, has mostly been confined to the bench by his London club this season.

"Pavlo does have a problem of not playing enough but we have other quality forwards on our team," Hiddink said.

Since taking over the Russia job just over three years ago, the charismatic Dutchman has already achieved a number of milestones in Russian football.

"I don't worry about setting personal records," said Hiddink, who last year steered the national team to the European championship semi-finals for the first time in 20 years.

"My job is to make sure we qualify for the World Cup."