Since the dissolving of the USSR in 1991, Russia’s sole claim to fame at major footballing tournaments came at Euro 2008 when Guus Hiddink guided Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and co to the semi-finals. It could be argued the omens could favour Russia again this year, as the old Soviet Union’s only footballing triumph was the 1960 European Championships held in France – but just
how likely are the class of 2016 to repeat this success?
Russia qualified for Euro 2016 following a tricky start under former head coach Fabio Capello. Capello was given the boot after this distrastrous start to qualifying, only winning against minnows Liechtenstein and in an abandoned match against Montenegro in their opening six games. He was replaced by Leonid Slutsky, who at the time was mounting a title charge with CSKA Moscow. Slutsky managed the two jobs perfectly, with Russia winning all four of their remaining matches and CSKA Moscow winning the league title. When looking at the manager’s style, Slutsky’s CSKA side are entertaining to watch with their crisp passing moves and incisive counter attacks – and this more expressive approach has been a breath of fresh air in the Russia side since the departure of the clunky Capello.
Zenit St. Petersburg striker Artem Dzyuba was Russia’s top scorer in qualifying with 8 goals. Dzyuba is a classic target man who can also bring others into the game, and at 6ft 5in in stature he can be a handful for any defence. Another player to look out for is nippy Krasnodar striker, Fedor Smolov. Smolov was the top scorer in the Russian Premier League with 20 goals in 28 games, and his tremendous form will put pressure on Dzyuba for a place in the team’s starting line-up.
Russia will however have to cope without key midfielder Alan Dzagoev, who was ruled out with a cruel injury setback on the last day of the domestic season. This means that the duty of providing some creative flair has fallen to 21 year-old Oleg Shatov. Shatov is a quick and tricky winger who is quickly establishing himself as a key player for Russia.