While the vast majority of the English press corps found itself glued to a Vauxhall showroom on the outskirts of Luton for Roy Hodgson’s squad announcement, in Moscow, the man who led the Three Lions to their previous World Cup was going through the same process, naming a bloated 30-man squad for Brazil.
Unlike Hodgson, the Italian has not yet settled on which of the 30 will become the 23 who actually travel to the tournament, with a final announcement not being made until June 2. A large part of the reasoning for this is purely logical – the Russian Premier League season concludes on Thursday, and so injury may yet play a part – but for many of those selected, their fate is not difficult to assume.
In terms of expectations, the Russian public are not overly demanding, particularly as the last three tournament took part without any Russian representation, but those evaluating their potential chances would do well to look at the projected draw. Matched with Belgium, South Korea and Algeria, most would fancy Capello’s disciplined side to make their way into the knockout rounds.
From then on, progress becomes much more difficult. Placed in Group H, they will take on an opponent from Group G in the second round -which contains Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the USA. Even should either of the latter two upset the European favourites, Russia face a tricky encounter, while Germany and Portugal will both prove tough tests – Capello’s side taking some comfort from their 1-0 in Moscow in qualification.
Depending on which position Russia finish in their group will determine any potential quarter final opponent, but with groups E and F lined up, France, Argentina or an improving Swiss side are likely to appear at one stage – meaning if Capello can take his team any further, he will be forced to claim some major scalps.
To do that, he will be relying on Igor Akinfeev in goal. Yuri Lodygin has proved himself to be a more than capable deputy in a stunning first season with Zenit, but it is the CSKA man who will almost certainly, barring injury between now and the finals, assume the starting position in goal. Rubin’s Sergei Ryzhikov takes the third spot, and while the Kazan-based stopper has certainly improved in recent years, Russians will be hoping he is not forced to don the gloves in a crucial game, Dinamo’s Vladimir Gabulov bizarrely overlooked.
In defence, fans of stability and experience will take much from the fact that, along with Akinfeev, anybody who watched Euro 2008 will still be able to name the majority of the Russian back line. CSKA once again dominate the defensive positions, with the Berezustky twins and Sergei Ignashevich assuming their usual positions, and young prodigy Georgi Shchennikov battling to add to his meagre collection of caps so far. On the right, Zenit stalwart Alexander Anyukov will also add vital top-level experience to the squad, while Dmitri Kombarov – one of the standout players in a poor couple of years for Spartak – is also likely to take a ticket.
Then come those in the ‘maybe’ category. Of those defenders remaining, Dinamo’s Vladimir Granat is the most likely after coming through a Zenit fan’s attack mostly unscathed, while the versatility of Anzhi man Andrei Eshchenko – able to play on both flanks – should see him earn a place. Alexei Kozlov has featured before under Capello but has struggled for time since swapping Kuban for Dinamo, while Terek’s Andrei Semenov will almost certainly miss out, his inclusion recognition for a strong season in a poor side.
In midfield, the odd man out is almost certainly Yuri Gazinsky, the Krasnodar man who at the time of the last World Cup was plying his trade from Smena Konsomolsk-na-Amur in the Second Division East. He has missed just one game in a good campaign for the cup finalists, but would be a big risk to take to Brazil. Another likely absentee is Rubin’s Pavel Mogilevets, who has proven his worth since being plucked from the fringes at Zenit, but to force his way in at this late stage would be asking a little too much for 21-year-old with just 12 top flight league games under his belt
One man who is likely to Alexei Ionov, who Capello has included in the majority of his squads, while Alexander Samedov has also proven his worth to the national side with strong qualifying displays. The pair raise doubts over the international future of Viktor Faizulin, a man who also seemed to be a Capello favourite until recent games. Otherwise, there are few surprises – Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov, Denis Glushakov and Alan Dzagoev will fight for the central roles, with Oleg Shatov and Yuri Zhirkov likely to beat Vladimir Bystrov, now with relegated Anzhi, to the wide berths. Following his omission, Andrei Arshavin’s international career appears finally over.
Up front is where much of the debate will be, however for the most part the names pick themselves. Alexander Kerzhakov is lethal when in form and has led the side for years, while Alexander Kokorin, Dinamo’s golden boy, represents both the present and future goal threat for the country. Artem Dzyuba, who has been a revelation on loan at cup-winning Rostov, looks to have finally won Capello’s favour, and those three will likely compete for the starting spots. On the fringes are Maxim Kanunnikov, the one-time Zenit starlet now plugging away at Amkar, who is not yet of international quality, and Pavel Pogrebnyak, the Reading man whose inclusion is the biggest surprise, but who should not have a realistic chance of going to Brazil.
Overall, Capello has chosen those he was expected to, with those on the edge of the 30 the greatest surprises. Russia possess a well-drilled team defensively – Capello’s record in qualification was exemplary – but will rely heavily on Shirokov and Dzagoev in midfield and the Kokorin/Kerzhakov axis up front for any success. With a nation in full patriotic fervour behind them, Capello’s men look as prepared as they can be for the tournament. Winning it, however, is out of the question.
Squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA), Yury Lodygin (Zenit), Sergey Ryzhikov (Rubin).
Defenders: Alexander Anyukov (Zenit), Alexey Berezutsky (CSKA), Vasili Berezutsky (CSKA), Vladimir Granat (Dinamo), Andrey Eshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Sergey Ignashevich (CSKA), Alexey Kozlov (Dinamo), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak), Andrey Semenov (Terek), Georgi Shchennikov (CSKA).
Midfielders: Vladimir Bystrov (Anzhi), Yury Gazinskiy (Krasnodar), Denis Glushakov (Spartak), Igor Denisov (Dinamo), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA), Yuri Zhirkov (Dinamo), Alexey Ionov (Dinamo), Pavel Mogilevets (Rubin), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv), Victor Faizulin (Zenit), Oleg Shatov (Zenit), Roman Shirokov (Krasnodar).
Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Rostov), Maxim Kanunnikov (Amka), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit), Alexander Kokorin (Dinamo), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Reading).
Likely to miss out: Semenov, Gazinsky, Mogilevets, Kanunnikov, Pogrebnyak, Kozlov, Bystrov/Faizulin