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Monday, June 9, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #3 For 6/9/14: #18 Russia

Photo From Getty Images Europe's Julian Finney

Projected formation: 

                                      Akinfeev 

       Schennikov  - Ignashevich  - Berezutski - Kombarov 

                           Faizulin             Denisov         

       Shatov                                                                Zhirov 
                                      Kokorin 

                                    Kerzhakov 
   
Key sub options: Glushakov, Dzagoev,  Kozlov       

The Runthrough                                                          

Fabio Capello and Russia really needed each other. The nation was still stinging at the massive disappointment of a golden generation failing to participate in South Africa at the hands of a far less talented Slovenia side. Capello meanwhile had his mantle as a top manager damaged, as a poor World Cup from England concluded with a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany. 

Redemption and repairing reputations were fully on the mind of both parties coming together after Euro 2012, as Capello followed the Dutch coaching duo of Guus Hidink and Dick Advocaat to become the third straight high profile manager for Russia. It was simply time for Russia to qualify for the World Cup after missing out on the last two times, and they did just that with a great qualifying campaign by conceding only three goals and topping Portugal in their group. 

Despite not being as talented as the 2010 team that failed miserably, this Russian unit seemed to have the consistent mental focus required to play up to its fine abilities. Since qualifying, they are undefeated and have given up just two goals in 5 games. A 2-0 victory over Morocco on June 6th seemed like it would be the perfect final result for Capello's side in their last friendly before Brazil. But an unfortunate thing happened before the match with the African side: They lost their captain and deep lying playmaker Roman Shirokov. 

Life with Shirokov went okay in that victory over Morocco, which included Dynamo Moscow left midfielder Yuri Zhirkov displaying why he was such a valued commodity globally a few years back with a stunning left foot volley goal. But their post-Shirokov results would be placed to the full test against an always energetic South Korea side on June 17, with fancied pick Belgium and under the radar Algeria also in Group H. 

The playmaking duties will have to increase in the starting lineup now for Victor Fayzulin and either one of their two 23-year-old exciting playmaking talents in Alan Dzagoev or Oleg Shatov. Dzagoev has recovered for a thing injury suffered last year to at least build some traction, but is not in the best form to have Capello pick him over Shatov. The Zenit man also has an advantage in playing with Fayzulin and star forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov at club level. Still, Dzagoev remains one of the planet's bright young talents and could easily showcase that terrific potential still in him if given the nod. 

Another prominent 23-year-old in this Russian side is the rising Aleksandr Kokorin of Dynamo Moscow, who has come off his first double digit season in his young career. With the clinical Kerzhakov also dealing with a set of injuries this season and not in the from he exhibited during qualification, Kokorin could see himself as the lone forward in the starting lineup. Knocking on the door for the start as well is Aleksandr Samedov, a late blooming outside midfielder at 29 who has caught the eye of Capello a few times lately and was just named Lokomotiv Moscow's player of the season. 

Regardless of who the attacking options will end up being, they will all be protected by new team captain Igor Denisov. A true destroyer in the field, Denisov's toughness in the middle of the park allowed Shirokov to be the offensive trigger man in the other holding position. Against the energetic, vibrant midfields of Korea Republic, Algeria, and Belgium, the 30-year-old will have to stay resilient while injecting his own-Shirokov moments from time to time. Denisov does have a tendency to have a heavy touch and will be wise not to give his Group H rivals a firm break in on his country's goal.  

If Denisov is able to do just that, Capello's backline can retain the impervious structure they have had with him since his arrival two summers. The centerback pairing of Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski have one of the best understandings of any central defensive duo in the tournament.  Long time teammates and friends at CSKA Moscow have allowed the two over 30 year olds a chemistry that even some of the elite teams in this tournament would blush at. Like almost every centerback nowadays, Ignashevich and Berezutski don't want to get in a battle of pace with a Son Heung-Min or Romelu Lukaku. But they are so tactically astute and mentally assured of themselves, growing in the twilight of their careers with Capello's guidance. 

The CSKA moscow centerhalf pairing should be accompanied by Spartak left back Dmitri Kombarov, who does a good job at being tidy at the back before venturing forward. He does have a fight for his place with another emerging 23 year-old in the side in Ignashevich and Berezutski's teammate Georgi Schennikov. The rightback spot appears that it will go to Andrey Yeshchenko, who is more comfortable playing on the left and could be the main target of attack for all of Russia's Group H rivals. 

Besides the fine centerback pairing, the goalkeeping situation with the former Soviet Union is quite good. Igor Akinfeev could certainly play for many big Western European clubs if he wanted, as he is continuing to further his class at age 28 and may be tempted to move from CSKA Moscow if he has a great World Cup. An excellent understudy for him, although Akinfeev has plenty more years to retain that #1 position, is 24-year-old Yuri Lodygin. An excellent shot stopper and following the way Akinfeev has risen, Zenit would do so well if they are able to hold onto Lodygin until Euro 2016. 

Solid box to box midfielder Denis Glushakov, another fine young attacking force in 22-year-old Maksim Kanunnikov (who controversially beat out Rostov hitman Artyom Dzuba for a spot on the roster despite Dzuba 17 goals in the SOGAZ Championship), and the aforementioned Dzagoev give Capello good substitution options.  He could end up even having Kerzhakov off the pine as well. 

So life after Shirokov may not be as dreadful as it once seemed the minute they learned off his back injury. But it further limits the room of mistakes for Russia in a group where Belgian have the most talent, South Korea the most World Cup experience, and Algeria as having the biggest chip on their shoulders. Capello requested that all of his players comeback or stay in the SOGAZ Championship as the only way they would get selected for this World Cup. He is familiar and comfortable with his full squad and feels his side will have enough to survive in its captain's absence. 

It is a mentally of determined focus of why Russia and their Italian manager have worked so well and could continue to do so on the ultimate stage.

Under The Radar, Key Players: 

Shatov: He has taken some of the plaudits of Dzagoev to add to his own growing reputation and could be the difference maker to Russia progressing out of Group H. 
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