They briefly sparkled at Euro 2008, but a look at their star players from that tournament suggests that Russia’s time has come and gone.
Andrey Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Yuri Zhirkov all impressed as the Russians made it all the way the semi-finals in Austria and Switzerland before falling foul of eventual winners Spain, and after the performances of all three attracted attention in both north and west London, big money was spent bring them to the Premier League. Four years later, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea have all ushered Arsavin, Pavlyuchenko and Zhirkov out of the exit door with very little fanfare.
Not that the Premier League is the be-all and end-all though, and with the three now back enjoying their football in their homeland, Russia’s squad for the finals looks to be made up of entirely domestic-based players bar the forward Pavel Pogrebnyak (top goalscorer 100/1 Bwin), who shone on loan at Fulham from Stuttgart in the latter half of the English season.
It is a squad which can’t be disappointed with the group they’ve been given.
Pitched into the noticeably weak Group A (Russia to win the group 6/4 SkyBet), the Russians will take on co-hosts Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic, with the Czechs first up in Wroclaw on the tournament’s opening night.
On paper it might be considered Russia’s toughest match, but experienced Dutch boss Dick Advocaat won’t let his side get complacent, and expect the Russians to be coming for the Czechs in a determined mood (Russia win 11/10 totesport).
Victory there will allow Russia to dominate a group which looks to be there for the taking, although their second match against co-hosts Poland in the National Stadium in Warsaw could prove a tricky one given that the hosts will be backed by a fanatical crowd. A point there (Draw 40/17 Bwin) could just suit both ahead of the challenges ahead.
The last challenge in the group for Russia is the Greeks back in Warsaw on June 16th (Russia win 11/10 Boylesports), and Advocaat’s side should have more than enough to see off the threat of the shock Euro 2004 winners and secure qualification from Group A (group points: exactly 6 7/2 exactly 7 7/2, exactly 9 13/2 Ladbrokes, group straight forecast: Russia 1st, Poland 2nd 5/1, Poland 1st, Russia 2nd 7/1 Bet365). It’s after the group stage finishes that things get tricky though.
Whichever qualification place they take up in Group A, the Russians will have to face one of the teams from the deadly Group B – likely to be either Germany or Holland. Whichever one it is, that is where their tournament ends (stage of elimination: quarter-finals: 5/4 Bet Victor).
The Russians impressively beat the Dutch in the quarter-finals four years ago, but they have regressed whilst the Dutch have progressed in that time, and there looks to be no chance of them repeating the trick this time around. If the opponents are Germany, then there’s probably even less hope.
Advocaat can make the most of Russia’s favourable group to ensure that this isn’t considered a drastically bad tournament for the Russians though, and with the domestic game continuing to thrive under the influence of the money and power of a select group of people, they can improve in future tournaments.
Now though, despite younger talents such as CSKA Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev and his club-mate, the brilliant goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, ready to impress alongside Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko and Zhirkov, a decent but not great tournament beckons for the Russians, and even that is probably only down to a group draw that they’ll be thanking their lucky stars for.