Qualifying Group Winners
Coach Dick Advocaat
One to Watch Alan Dzagoev
As we approach the summer of 2012 all of our minds, well most of them at least, will turn away from the domestic football competitions within our own countries, towards the International arena for the eagerly awaited European Championship Finals, to be held in Poland and the Ukraine. At It’s All In The Game, I shall be profiling each of the 16 finalists that will bid to become the champions of Europe until 2016.
The next in our series of team profiles for Euro 2012 takes us East to Russia. The modern Russian national team played its first international fixture against Mexico in 1992. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, it is considered by FIFA to be the natural successor to the U.S.S.R. team, even though many of the former U.S.S.R.s best known players were actually from the Ukraine, for example, seven of the Soviet starting eleven in the final of Euro 88 were Ukrainian.
Russia as the U.S.S.R., qualified for seven World Cup Finals, their best run in the competition proper took them to fourth place in 1966 in England. The U.S.S.R. fared slightly better in European competition reaching the final tournament on six occasions (as the C.I.S. in 1992), winning the European Nations Cup, as it was then known, in 1960 and finishing runners-up to the marvellous Dutch team, which included Gullit and Van Basten, in West Germany 1988.
Since becoming an independent country, Russia have managed to qualify for two World Cup Finals, U.S.A. 1994 and in the Far East in 2002. Both of these trips ended in group stage elimination, with Russia managing one win and two defeats on each occasion.The European Championships have been slightly kinder to the Russians, with qualification achieved for four tournaments-counting next summer- which includes the last three in a row.
Russia’s best ever showing in a major international tournament as an independent nation came in Euro 2008 under coach Guus Hiddink. Having lost their opening group game 1-4 to Spain, Russia won their next two group games to set up a quarter final match against Hiddink’s native Holland.Russia took the lead against the tournament favourites on ten minutes, and despite being pegged back, managed to get back on top and eventually win the game 3-1.
Hiddink’s charges went on to play, eventual tournament winners, Spain again in the semi-final, where they lost 0-3. Under their Dutch manager, the Russians narrowly missed out on qualification for South Africa 2010, losing out agonisingly on away goals in their play-off against Slovenia.
Following the failed campaign, Hiddink was replaced as manager by another Dutchman, Dick Advocaat. The former Glasgow Rangers boss has managed to guide Russia to automatic qualification for Euro 2012, topping their group on 23 points, a run which saw them win seven out of ten games and lose only once.
Advocaat has kept a similar group of players around him as were there under his predecessor, and has been able to bring a number of the younger players further into the fold during his tenure.
A particularly exciting young talent is Alan Dzagoev, a hard-working, skilful, attacking midfielder. Dzagoev, though still only 21 years old, is regarded as one of Russia’s most talented players, a first team regular with his club CSKA Moscow, he was awarded Best Young Player in the Russian league 2008/09. He made his debut for the national side against Germany in 2008 and scored four goals during qualification for Euro 2012 including a crucial winner in Slovakia.
Russia are an interesting proposition coming into Poland and Ukraine; they showed their quality in 2008 with a great run to the semis, and, that was without their main striker Pogrebnyak who was out injured for the whole competition. Advocaat can call on the services on the powerful front-man who has taken the Premier League by storm since his arrival at Fulham in January.
Failure to qualify for 2010 was by the narrowest of margins, and they could quite easily have secured qualification earlier had they taken their chances against Germany. Advocaat inherited a decent squad and has been able to work with it and improve it slightly, adding a little more steel as results have shown.
Obviously, not all sides can make it through the group stages, however, Russia have been drawn in group A with Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic. Although the group promises to be tight and fairly evenly matched, Russia have quality within the team and have shown that they are hard to beat, making them my favourites to finish on top. Should they manage that, they will face the runners-up from the group of death a daunting prospect, but possibly one that the Russians could cope with.
Both images by Kate_Lokteva