FIFA World ranking:
v. Czech Republic – 8 June – Municipal Stadium Wroclaw, Wroclaw
v. Poland – 12 June – National Stadium Warsaw, Warsaw
v. Greece – 16 June – National Stadium Warsaw, Warsaw
The road to the championship:
Russia qualified for Euro 2012 by winning qualifying Group B. While Russia’s qualification stuttered initially with a shock 1-0 loss at home to Slovakia, it was unbeaten for the rest of their campaign. Roman Pavlyuchenko and Alan Dzagoev were joint top-scorers, with four goals each. Three of Pavlyuchenko’s came against Armenia in June 2011, when the Lokomotiv Moscow striker netted a hat-trick. Dick Advocaat’s side only concede four goals in qualifying, and finished two points clear of the Republic of Ireland, atop its group.
Champions: 1960 (as USSR)
Runners up: 1964, 1972, 1988 (as USSR)
Andrei Arshavin – EURO 2008 saw Arshavin emerge as one of Europe’s most exciting midfielders, (he was named in the team of the tournament) and soon left UEFA Cup winners Zenit St. Petersburg for Arsenal in January 2009. Shava had enjoyed six seasons at Zenit, winning the league title in 2007 and the UEFA Cup in 2008.
It didn’t take long for Arshavin to impress, and in April 2009 he scored four goals at Anfield, in Arsenal’s 4-4 draw with Liverpool. Arshavin’s next two seasons cemented his place as one of Arsenal’s key players, in which he scored 28 goals and 31 assists, mainly playing as a winger.
Yet the 2011/12 season saw the diminutive Russian’s form dip, as he fell out of favour with manager Arsene Wenger. Desperate to remain match-fit to stay in frame for EURO 2012, Arshavin engineered a loan return to Zenit for the remainder of the season.
Arshavin is likely to be the centrepiece of Advocaat’s attack, and should thrive at EURO 2012.
Yuri Zhirkov – after two miserable years at Chelsea – Zhirkov never cemented a place in the Chelsea side, and only managed a solitary goal at Stamford Bridge – the winger left for the cashed-up Anzhi Makhachkala in August 2011.
Before Chelsea, Zhirkov enjoyed a six seasons at CSKA Moscow, making 215 appearances for the club, as well as scoring 24 goals.
Capable of playing either left wing or left full-back, Zhirkov’s pace and skill out wide makes him a dangerous player, and will be vital to Russia’s success.
Player to watch out for:
Pavel Pogrebnyak – snapped up in the January 2012 transfer window by Fulham, Pogrebnyak quickly stamped his imprint on the Barclays Premier League by scoring on his debut against Stoke City. Pogrebnyak scored again in the next match, and went a step better in Fulham’s 5-0 win over Wolverhampton: scoring a ‘perfect hat-trick’ (goals with both feet and the head).
Po the Great – as coined by compatriot Arshavin – stands at 190cm, and will challenge Roman Pavlyuchenco to be Russia’s target man at EURO 2012.
Advocaat replaced fellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink as coach of Russia in 2010, after Russia failed to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa.
Advocaat’s coaching CV is immense, and includes league titles with PSV in Holland (1996/97), Rangers in Scotland (1998/99, 1999, 00), and league and UEFA Cup honours with Zenit St. Petersburg (2007 and 2008 respectively).
Internationally he has managed Holland, UAE, South Korea and Belgium.
Classic EURO moment:
The Russians – when they were the USSR – won the first Henri Delaunay trophy, which was hosted in France. The USSR flexed their footballing muscle to the world, and especially the West, in a display of ‘Soviet might’ as the Cold War was nearing its height.
With the great Lev Yashin – The Black Cat – in goal, the USSR eased past Czechoslovakia in the first match, winning 3-0 in Marseille. Valentin Ivanov lead the way with a brace either side of half time, while Viktor Ponedelnik’s 66th minute strike sealed the win, and the USSR’s place in the final.
Nearly 18,000 people saw the first European Nation’s Championship final, of which the USSR won 2-1 – after extra time – over Yugoslavia at the Parc des Princes in Paris. Yugoslavia took a lead late in the first half behind Milan Galić’s goal, but Slava Metreveli levelled the scores four minutes after half-time. Ponedelnik scored his second of the tournament, deep into extra-time, to seal an historic victory for the Soviet Union.
Russia is more than capable of winning Group A, and going a long way into EURO 2012. The climate of Poland and Ukraine will benefit the Russians, who are almost playing out of their back-yard. There will be no love lost in their second group match against traditional rivals Poland; a match with the potential to turn nasty.
Russia failed to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and will be determined to succeed at the 2012 European Championships. Expect to see them in the semi-finals.
upstart is previewing each of the final teams in the lead up to the EURO 2012. Tomorrow’s team: Czech Republic.