Russia Preview – Capello To Prove Doubters Wrong?
World Cup 2014
Fabio Capello’s Russia fly out to Brazil with expectations quite low compared to previous years.
Russia are unbeaten in eight matches going back to last September, although that run includes victories over Luxembourg (twice), Armenia, Slovakia and Israel, and only one game against another World Cup qualifier; a 2-1 victory over South Korea.
Dig a little further back, however, and you can find a couple of impressive results. A victory over Portugal was worth noting, and in March last year, it took a last minute Fred equalizer to stop them from recording a famous win over Brazil.
Russia were second favourites in a qualifying group that included Portugal, but they got off to a strong start and were never overhauled. Fabio Capello’s side won their first four games without conceding a goal, a run that included a 4-0 victory in Israel and a 1-0 win over Portugal in Moscow.
By the time they had their first wobble, losing 1-0 in Lisbon and Belfast, they already had enough of a lead, and even dropping two points in their final game against Azerbaijan wasn’t enough to stop them from topping the table.
After struggling for a couple of years to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear in the England job, Capello has since reminded the football world what he can achieve, given a reasonable number of technically adept midfielders to choose from.
The Russian squad is packed with experience, and built on the CSKA Moscow back line, which let in only five goals in ten qualifying games and helped goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev set a new national record by going twelve hours without conceding.
In midfield, they are well-drilled, playing a high-tempo pressing game and look to their most talented player, Alan Dzagoev to pull the strings.
Qualifying from Group H looks a straightforward business for Russia, who can probably afford to lose their second game against Belgium, providing they beat both Algeria and South Korea.
Whether they finish first or second in the group doesn’t really matter, as they are on course to meet either Germany or Portugal, and that is the game that will define their World Cup. Victory in their second round match will earn them a place in the last eight for the first time since 1970.
The World Cup draw contained good news and bad news for Russia. The good news was that they were given a pretty soft group, from which
Capello’s well-organised, hard-working side should be able to qualify, even if they lose to the fancied Belgians.
The bad news was that they will have to meet one of the tournament favourites in the second round, and although their defensive solidity will ensure they aren’t embarrassed, they don’t have the quality up front to worry Germany or Portugal. Back ‘Second Round’ in the Russia Stage Of Elimination Market at 11/10