Dzagoev key, but rising star Kokorin may steal the show for Russia
Armed with tournament past-masters and the pass master himself; Dinamo Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev, Capello has reason to be confident of at least progressing from the group, after topping a qualifying cluster that included Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Interestingly, they are 5/1 with Coral to exit at the quarter-final stages, if they can get the better of Algeria, Belgium and South Korea in their group games.
Their opening fixture against South Korea will be a lively encounter. The Asian representatives are certainly no slouches when it comes to World Cups. In South Africa they progressed to the second round, and in 2002 surprised everyone to reach the semi-finals.
Russia will want to avoid a repeat of Euro 2012, having started strongly with a 4-1 victory over Czech Republic, before being held to a draw by Poland and then capitulating to Greece.
Such unpredictability will not be tolerated by fans this time round. In qualifying though, they consistently scored goals. Strike duo Aleksandr Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg) and Aleksandr Kokorin (Dinamo Moscow) netted a combined nine times. Both are 100/1 shots with Coral to be tournament top scorer.
Capello played a variation of 4-4-2 on the road to Brazil, and viewers can expect to see more of the same in the summer. Renowned for favouring experience and pragmatism, it means that FC Krasnador midfield veteran Roman Shirokov is expected to feature heavily after competing in every match on Russia’s way to the finals. Where he is utilised however is another matter. He can play anywhere in the spine, even operating as sweeper when the occasion calls for it.
At the age of 23, the aforementioned Dzagoev, although talented, has a lot to prove. Despite finishing Euro 2012 as Russia’s top scorer with three goals, it seems Capello is yet to be convinced, often preferring to sacrifice him in favour of playing two strikers. Blessed with sniper-like vision, clever off-the-ball movement and a natural killer instinct, Russia may well be developing their next secret weapon.
Having sparkled in tournament football, he may excel best on big occasions and his boss may feel that this is the stage he needs to perform. It is after all the best football competition in the world. It deserves the best footballers. He is 200/1 to be top scorer.
In their latest warm-up game, Russia brushed aside their former soviet state Armenia in a comfortable 2-0 win. Kokorin proved how vital he could be after getting on the end of Aleksandr Samedov’s cross. A link-up that is beginning to blossom.
In qualifying, Sbornaya conceded the least amount of goals in their group – five in total. One of them was to second-place Portugal. It bears all of the hallmarks of a Capello team; staying tight at the back and proving hard to break down. However, there is also another reason.
Just behind a vastly experienced defence is their well revered goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. Plying his trade for CSKA Moscow, he has consistently performed at the highest level and has been compared to compatriot, and World Cup great Lev Yashin by those around him. He helped to keep five clean sheets in qualifying, including four consecutively at the start of the campaign.
There are many Premier League managers that will watch this Russian team with intrigue in Brazil, as they weigh up their summer transfer policy. Do not be surprised to see one or two players on the move, following an impressive World Cup.