Russia are finally set to arrive at a major tournament with some hope. Not since the dark-horse days of Euro 2008 and the emergence of Andrey Arshavin have they had such a capable, effective unit.
Lesson from qualifying
Trust in Slutsky. Russia’s chances were in peril for much of the campaign until the gloom of Fabio Capello was ditched in favour of the CSKA Moscow head coach. Slutsky was a revelation, guiding the team to four straight wins to seal their place.
Their attacking unit. Artem Dzyuba provides a challenge to any defence, and he’s ably supported by Roman Shirokov and the explosive Aleksandr Kokorin.
An ageing defence may struggle to contain Europe’s elite. The creaking centre-back pairing of Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski performed well during qualifying, but they could be exposed against younger, quicker opponents.
Most likely to…
See their manager adopt a pained profile on the touchline – he’s renowned for it.
Least likely to…
See another in-form striker flop: Dzyuba surely won’t go the same way as Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who missed with all of his 14 efforts at Euro 2012.
What they hope will happen
Like most sides in this inflated tournament, Russia aim to come through the group and take their chances against whoever’s next.
What will happen
Second in Group B, Russia will defeat the Group F runners-up in Nice, before bowing out to hosts France in the last eight.
Key player - Roman Shirokov
Dzyuba and Kokorin may be charged with leading the line, but the exquisite playmaking ability of Shirokov will do much to determine Russia’s fate. The CSKA Moscow midfielder will control the tempo behind the forward line and has a canny ability to score when a goal is needed most.
Manager - Leonid Slutsky
The most gifted Russian coach of his generation retired from a career as a goalkeeper at 19 because of a knee injury he picked up while trying to rescue a cat from a tree.
Q&A - Artem Dzyuba
What do you think of Group B?
It’s not the hardest, but also not the easiest. England are the favourites. They might not be among those fighting for the title, but they’re a strong side. With Wales, it’s obvious they’re built around Gareth Bale and, to a lesser extent, Aaron Ramsey. They’re dangerous, but there is no point going to the Euros if you’re afraid of Wales and Slovakia.
What was it like working with Fabio Capello? And has new coach Leonid Slutsky told the players how he had to retire from playing after falling out of a tree?
He always smiles when we talk about it. We laugh about how the branches weren’t able to hold his weight! Working with Fabio Capello wasn’t easy. At training camps we were always in our rooms. It wasn’t really a great atmosphere.
You’ve scored a lot of goals for Russia and Zenit. Are you feeling good going into the tournament?
It has given me a lot of confidence that Andre Villas-Boas and Leonid Slutsky believe in me. It really hurt that I didn’t play at Euro 2012 and the World Cup – they were two massive blows. It made me angry and I worked on my game even more to show I belong at this level.
Fixtures and results
June 12, England - Marseille, 3am
June 15, Slovakia - Lille, 9pm
June 21, Wales - Toulouse, 3am
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Group G runners-up
vs Liechtenstein (H) 4-0
vs Sweden (A) 1-1
vs Moldova (H) 1-1
vs Austria (A) 0-1
vs Montenegro (A) 3-0*
vs Austria (H) 0-1
vs Sweden (H) 1-0
vs Liechtenstein (A) 7-0
vs Moldova (A) 2-1
vs Montenegro (H) 2-0
*Russia awarded 3-0 win after match abandoned
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
1992 Group stage
1996 Group stage
2004 Group stage
2012 Group stage
Words Eliot Rothwell; Interview Richard van Poortvliet
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