On 8 June, the European Championships will start in Poland and Ukraine. With 16 teams, the very best in Europe, fighting it out for silverware. It’s sure to be a cracking event which will no doubt serve up some great goals, drama and controversy.
Yes, there will be the usual elite sides playing there like Spain, Italy, England, France and Germany. But you know enough about them already and we all know what to expect from them.
In this article, I’ll be focusing on the underestimated force that is Russia and why I think they will be the surprise package of the tournament.
Russia stand proud to a host of well-known talented players, a competitive and wealthy domestic league and extravagent, if not a little crazy, set of supporters. The national side looks promising and the Euros could be their big break.
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Russia finished top of Group B in qualifying for the Championships, finishing on 23 points. They were expected to proceed, with a group consisting of Slovakia, Armenia, Andorra, Macedonia and Republic of Ireland (the better of the rest). Having pretty much breezed past the qualifying rounds, finishing ahead of Ireland who ended up in second place, they were put into the group stages.
And again, by the tournament’s rich standards, they were drawn with a fairly comfortable group which they are strong favourites for. The side will play hosts Poland, Euro 2004 winners Greece and the inconsistent enigma that is Czech Republic. Sure, it’s not going to be like it was in the qualifying rounds – but surely they will fancy their chances.
Good set of players
Russia have some very good players, that if perform to the standard expected at the Euro’s, will lead the side to positive things. Goalkeeper-wise, they have CSKA Moscow stopper Igor Akinfeev who is one of the very best in Europe. And then, defensively they are strong with the former Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov at left-back and quietly efficient Zenit star Aleksandr Anyukov in the heart of the defence.
Argueably their best area is in midfield and attack, where they have a bunch of players who are well-known and play at high levels in Europe. The young, fresh Alan Dzagoev of CSKA Moscow is looking increasingly more able, veteran Konstantin Zyryanov will provide much needed steel and grit in the centre and Arsenal winger Andrei Arsharvin, currently on-loan at Zenit, will be key to unlocking backlines with his pace, skill and energy.
Then, up top, they have the option of going with Fulham’s January signing Pavel Pogrebynak, who has been impressive in the English top-flight since arriving from Stuggart, who is good with his back to goal. Or a more direct route in ex-Tottenham forward Roman Pavlyuchenko who has 20 international goals to his name.
As you can see, the Russians are not short on good quality of players and with the likes of Pogrebynak, Arsharvin and Akinfeev in the team – they really are a force to be reckoned with.
Possess a good coach
I know what you’re thinking. It’s all very well having the players but you need a figure behind the team that knows what he’s doing, who can handle pressured situations and make key decisons. And they have one in Dick Advocaat. The 64-year-old was criticised in his early coaching days in Holland for his defensive style of play, but now he has created a attacking liberal environment in which the offensive players can produce in.
The much-travelled manager, who suceeded now-Anzhi coach Guus Hiddink as national team boss in May 2010, has experience in Belgium, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Scotland, Russia and of course his native Netherlands. He’s not blind to the significance of tournaments like the one in Poland and Ukraine, and understands the magnitude that the competition is at.
He’s known for being tough on players, requiring 100% effort and professionalism. With Advocaat in charge, Russia will be that bit more sterdy as a unit and as a whole.
As I’ve touched on already, Advocaat’s men have a real good chance of securing progression past the group stages with the teams they have been drawn with. Poland have some decent individuals but lack leadership, grit and the end product. Greece, winners in 2004, have a squad packed with experience but lack pace, flair or goals. And Czech Republic, probably the most dangerous to the Russians out of the trio, will give Russia a good run for their money but defensively they are poor.
The Russian fans have quite a reputation. Often seen making loud noise at matches and travelling in numbers, they are expected to do the same in the summer’s Championships. Whether it’s a innocent six-year-old boy or well travelled skinhead banging on the drums cheering them on, ou know they’ll make a bang.
So that concludes my piece on why I think Russia will run rampany at the Euro’s. Favourable group. Good set of players. Experienced and wise coach. Loud set of supporters ready to back them.
The future is bright for the Russians.