Russia aim to entertain in Slovenia

MARIBOR, Slovenia - Russia will stick to their crowd-pleasing style of attacking play when they take a narrow lead over Slovenia into Wednesday's World Cup play-off return leg, coach Guus Hiddink said.

The Dutchman, who has taken three teams to football's most prestigious tournament with his entertaining brand of football, said Russia would not suddenly become defensive just because Slovenia snatched an away goal in Saturday's 2-1 first leg.

"Since I've been here we always tried to play aggressive, attacking football that most fans love to watch," Hiddink told Reuters.

"It would be against Russian nature to take a cautious, defensive approach. It doesn't mean that we would totally neglect our defence and just attack, attack, attack.

"Slovenia need to score to have a chance for overall victory so they will have to attack as well. Therefore we must play a balanced game and try to get them on a break, if possible."

Hiddink has never failed to guide his teams to a major tournament, having taken his native Netherlands to the 1998 World Cup, Australia to the 2006 edition and co-hosts South Korea on a surprise run to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals.

He instilled his free-flowing style into Russia to steer them to the Euro 2008 semi-finals to add to his string of unlikely feats with unfancied teams.

Hiddink will likely keep faith with his proven players and field the same line-up for the second leg at the Ljudski vrt stadium in Maribor, providing Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov shakes off a sore knee.


Slovenia, ranked 49th by FIFA, remain confident in their ability to overturn a one-goal deficit, with the Balkan country's Prime Minister Borut Pahor even promising last month to clean his players' boots if they pull off an upset.

"We know what we have to do to win," said Slovenia striker Nejc Pecnik, who scored with just two minutes remaining in the first leg to boost his team's morale ahead of the home leg.

The Slovenians, whose only previous World Cup showing came in 2002, feel they should fare much better on the familiar natural turf in Maribor rather than the synthetic surface they played on at Moscow's Luzhniki.

"Playing on grass and in front of our passionate fans will give us a distinct advantage," Slovenia captain Robert Koren was quoted as saying by local media. "I think it will be a totally different match from the one we played in Moscow."

Probable teams:

Slovenia: 1-Samir Handanovic; 2-Miso Brecko, 5-Bostjan Cesar, 4-Marko Suler, 13-Bojan Jokic; 18-Aleksander Radosavljevic, 8-Robert Koren, 7-Nejc Pecnik; 10-Valter Birsa, 11-Milivoje Novakovic, 14-Zlatko Dedic.

Russia: 1-Igor Akinfeyev; 2-Alexander Anyukov, 4-Sergei Ignashevich, 5-Vasily Berezutsky, 18-Yuri Zhirkov; 7-Igor Denisov, 11-Sergei Semak, 6-Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, 17-Konstantin Zyryanov; 10-Andrei Arshavin, 9-Roman Pavlyuchenko.

Referee: Terje Hauge (Norway).