ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
|Russia won the difficult UEFA group 1 three
points ahead of Slovenia.
here for details
|Participations: (8) 1958, 1962,
1966, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994
|Best placing: Fourth place 1966
|Topscorer: Oleg Salenko,
detailed history information
|Vladimir Beschastnykh is a big man up
front for the Russians who scored seven goals in the qualifiers and the player Russia
counts on for goals in the World Cup.
VERDICT: Through to KO stage
|We think Russia will battle hard with European colleagues
Belgium for that other second round place alongside Japan - and come out winners. They are a
decent side with many highly experienced and skillful players all over the team and
it's time for the Russians to advance past the groupstage. It hasn't happened since 1986.
RUSSIANS COUNT ON VETERANS TO DO THE JOB
by Mike Gibbons
Pitted in a group that included Slovenia, Yugoslavia and Switzerland, the Russians were handed a more difficult task than
many to qualify for this year's World Cup. They also made heavy weather of their games against the weaker teams, scraping a
1-0 home win against the Faroe Islands and a 2-1 win in Luxembourg. However having only conceded five goals in ten
games, Russia deserved their place at the top of the group and their place at this summer’s finals. To the surprise of many on
the continent, the Yugoslavs were eliminated. Qualification was a much needed shot in the arm for Russian football, it is their
first appearance at a major championships since Euro 96.
Euro 96 saw Russia in the group of death against Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic. At the World Cup this summer, the
circumstances could hardly be different. They have been drawn in group H along with Belgium, Tunisia and co-hosts Japan.
Many cynics are calling this the weakest World Cup group ever, and it appears to be a direct result of FIFA’s decision to
grant the World Cup to two weak host nations, along with the expansion to 32 teams that first took place at France 98. There
was always the danger that the World Cup has spread itself to thin, and it leaves us with this - not that the Russians, or anyone
else in the group for that matter, are complaining.
It is without question the weakest group, but perhaps also the most even, and it affords Russia an excellent chance to
progress. That is the very least that is expected of coach Oleg Romantsev, who knows all to well what he can expect if his
team fails to progress.
Romantsev was the coach of Russia at Euro 96, and is still relying, six years down the line, on many of the players who
played for him in England that summer. Probably the key player is Vladimir Beschastnykh, now back playing in Russia with
Spartak Moscow. He made a crucial contribution in qualifying with seven goals, and is Russia’s only real potent striker. The
task of partnering him will probably fall to Alexander Panov, who recently moved from St Etienne to Dinamo Moscow
specifically to impress the coach.
In midfield, Romantsev will pin his hopes on aging Celta Vigo pair Alexander Mostovoi and Valeri Karpin, both now 33
years old. Dmitri Aleinichev, now with Porto, is a favourite of the coach and is likely to start. Captain Yegor Titov, who
started all ten qualifiers, will bear the burden of being the Russian playmaker, and is a highly gifted attacker. Dmitri Khokhlov
of Real Sociedad will also be pushing for a place.
In defence Romantsev keeps faith with three old stalwarts who have served him well down the years. Yuri Nikiforov is an
excellent defender with PSV Eindhoven, as likewise is Victor Onopko with Oviedo in Spain. Yuri Kovtun has come in from
the cold and is likely to be played at full-back, as he often does for Spartak Moscow. All three are the wrong side of thirty.
One of the better and younger options would be Alexei Smertin of Bordeaux.
One of the key reasons behind Russia’s impressive defensive record in qualifying was the outstanding displays in goal of
Ruslan Nigmatullin, now of Verona in Italy and a star in all ten qualifiers for Russia. An awful lot rests on the man named
Russian footballer of the year last year.
This is the last throw of the dice at international football for many players in the squad, and having been drawn in such a weak
group, they will never have a better chance to succeed where they have previously so often failed. If, as is well within their
power, they can top this group, they may be able to go as far as the quarter-finals. As we know from experience though,
where Russia are concerned, that is one big ‘if’.
A BRIEF WORLD CUP HISTORY
by Jan Alsos
The former Soviet Union participated for the first time in 1958
reaching the quarterfinals having beaten England in the play-off after being level on points after
the groupstage - goaldifference didn’t count back then. Hosts Sweden won comfortably 2-0
in that quarterfinal. Four years later in Chile, the hosts again stopped the Soviets in the
quarterfinal, but in England in 1966 a semifinal place was achieved for the first time.
Legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin was instrumental, but West Germany proved to be too
strong. Portugal also overcame the Soviets in the bronze match.
These years were great for Russian football and their strength was further underlined when
they reached a fourth consecutive quarterfinal in Mexico 1970. This time Uruguay stood in
their way of further advancement winning on a controversial extra time goal where the ball
seemed to have been out of play seconds before Uruguay scored.
The Soviet Union missed out on the two next World Cups, but were back in Spain 1982
where they reached the second phase. Lack of firepower up front in the latter stages caused
them to miss out on the semifinal place taken by Poland. Firepower was not the problem four
years later in Mexico when Hungary were thrashed 6-0 in the opening game. Several of the
goals came from long range shooting. Igor Belanov - a specialist at that - knocked in a
hat-trick against Belgium in the second round, but it still wasn’t enough to win. Belgium won
4-3 after extra time, the Russians claimed at least two of the goals were offside. TV pictures
supported that argument.
The referee in that game was Erik Fredriksson of Sweden and he was involved when the
Soviets again were robbed in Italy 1990. Maradona handballed a goalbound effort on the line
and got away with it at a vital stage of the first round game against Argentina. The Soviets
beat Cameroon soundly 4-0, but it still wasn’t enough to go through. Four years later in
USA, the story was much the same. Two early defeats and another thrashing of Cameroon -
this time 6-1 featuring a record five goals from Oleg Salenko. Still Russia had to go home
after the preliminary round.
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