Russia seek identity in the biggest amphitheatre

Russia seek identity in the biggest amphitheatre

Russia seek identity in the biggest amphitheatre

Russia are happy to have ended their 12-year wait to appear in a World Cup, but they will not be looking to just make up the numbers in Brazil.

There is little expectation at home that Russia could win the competition, but there is optimism that they could qualify from the group stages for the first time since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

They will certainly want to improve on their last showing in the the finals, in 2002 when, after beating Tunisia, they lost to Japan and Belgium and went out in the group stages.

FIFA’s official analysis of their weaknesses highlighted a “lack of coherence in defence, poor finishing and a vulnerability to swift counter-attacks”.

Russia head to Brazil with a good mix of youth and experience, with coach Fabio Capello introducing new names to go along with the established internationals. The vast majority of players came from just a handful of clubs. Zenit St Petersburg, Dynamo Moscow and CSKA Moscow supplied a large percentage of the squad.

 The spine of the team looks solid. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and the central defensive partnership of Sergey Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutskiy have played together for both club and country for almost a decade.

The CSKA pairing are both in their 30s and a lack of pace in the centre of defence will be one area of concern for Capello. Russia conceded only five goals in qualifying for Brazil, and only Belgium, England and Spain conceded fewer on route to the World Cup.

Scoring goals could be the biggest concern. They rely arguably too much on forward Alexander Kerzhakov, who is the only player in Russia's squad who has previously appeared at a World Cup. While Kerzhakov is less than prolific now, his link-up play is key to the team. However, the emergence of 23-year-old Alexander Kokorin, who has scored five goals for the national side, has helped to take some of the pressure off the Zenit St Petersburg veteran.

The midfield reflects Russia’s strength, with the underrated Igor Denisov providing stability, allowing Denis Glushakov to move forward.

Capello has picked his entire squad from the Russian Premier League, which will give Russia continuity and perhaps also a surprise factor against teams who are not well accustomed to Russia's domestic championship. To qualify from the group stages is the minimum requirement for Russia and if they manage to avoid Germany in the round of 16, there will be optimism that they could even reach the quarterfinals.