Capello works his magic on Russia

Aleksandr Kerzhakov, left, led Russia in scoring during the qualifiers with five goals. (Nikolai Alexandrov/AP)

Fabio Capello inherited a bit of a mess when he took over as Russia’s coach, succeeding Dutchman Dick Advocaat who stood down following the team’s early exit from the Euro 2012. Prior to that, Russia failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2006 and 2010, so Capello had a difficult task ahead of him. But the Italian manager quickly went to work, taking an underachieving and unspectacular team, and built them into a side capable of grinding out results. Capello’s workmanlike attitude that he imparted to his players paid dividends, as Russia topped a qualifying group that included Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. After a 12 year absence, Russia is back at the World Cup.


Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Lodygin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Sergey Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan)
Defenders: Vasili Berezutskiy (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Dynamo Moscow), Andrey Eshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Sergey Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Alexey Kozlov (Dynamo Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Terek Grozny), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow)
Midfielders: Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Zhirkov (Dynamo Moscow), Alexey Ionov (Dynamo Moscow), Pavel Mogilevets (Rubin Kazan), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Victor Faizulin (Zenit St Petersburg), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (Krasnodar)
Forwards: Maxim Kanunnikov (Amkar Perm), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Alexander Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow)


Fabio Capello’s resume is impressive as he’s won almost everything there is in football. A World Cup is ominously missing, though, and his Russian team has the capability to surprise a few opponents in Brazil. He will be looking to exercise the demons of his humiliating experience with England in 2010.

Possible formation

4-1-4-1: (GK) Akinfeev – (D) Eshchenko, Ignashevich, Berezutskiy, Kombarov – (M) Glushakov, Samedov, Zhirkov, Faizulin, Shirokov – (F) Kokorin

Group H schedule

June 17: vs. South Korea in Cuiaba
June 22: vs. Belgium in Rio
June 26: vs. Algeria in Curitiba

How they qualified

Consistency and a strong defensive record saw the Russians win Group F ahead of favoured Portugal. Russia beat the teams it was supposed to beat (Israel and Luxembourg) and defeated Portugal early on in a result that put them in the pole position to claim first place. Seven wins out of 10 matches (with one draw) was earned on the strength of back line that conceded just five times.

Team strengths

The Russians are well organized. Igor Akinfeev is a solid goalkeeper who only conceded five goals in qualifying while Sergey Ignashevich is a stalwart at the back. Tournament football is often cagey with slim margins. Russia look primed to thrive in that environment.

Team weaknesses

Age and experience. The core of the team is mostly in their 30s. While most veterans can call on tournament experience, only one member of Russia’s squad has actually been to a World Cup – Alexander Kerzhakov.

Players to watch

Sergey Ignashevich: The 34-year old defender is a big reason Russia beat Portugal to seal automatic qualification. The veteran’s no-nonsense style will come under examination in the Brazilian heat. He’s a key cog in Capello’s machine and can’t afford to run out of gas.
Alan Dzagoev: Dzagoev is one of Russia’s most talented player but he is ill-tempered. He’s a pacey, direct dribbler with a keen eye for goal who can shoulder Russia’s attacking burden.
Alexander Kerzhakov: The wily veteran was Russia’s top scorer in qualification with five goals – including a crucial game-winner against Portugal. If given service, Kerzhakov will find the back of the net.

Burning question?

Will their age hurt them? The core of the starting eleven is rather old. While Algeria won’t offer much of a threat, a fast, direct South Korea team could cause Russia’s pensioners problems. Capello – who recently extended his contract until 2018 – could surprise everyone and opt to blood a couple of youngsters.

Prospects in Brazil

There really is no excuse for Russia not to at least get out of the group stages. Belgium, South Korea and Algeria are all beatable – with Belgium being the team most likely to emerge from the ground alongside the Russians. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if Russia wins the group ahead of everyone’s favourite dark horses.

World Cup history

Russia returns to the World Cup this summer after missing out in 2006 and 2010. Prior to that, they went out in the group stages in 2002 and 1994. The nation’s high-point was 1966 when they finished third while competing as the Soviet Union– their best-ever finish at a World Cup. Quarterfinal exits were suffered in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

1930 to 1990: Competed as Soviet Union
• 1930 to 1954 – Did not participate
• 1958 – Quarterfinals
• 1962 – Quarterfinals
• 1966 – Semifinals (fourth place)
• 1970 – Quarterfinals
• 1974 – Did not qualify
• 1978 – Did not qualify
• 1982 – Second round
• 1986 – Second round
• 1990 – First round

1994 to present: Competed as Russia
• 1994 – First round
• 1998 – Did not qualify
• 2002 – First round
• 2006 – Did not qualify
• 2010 – Did not qualify

Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States

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