Euro 2016 a last kick at the can for aging Russian side


Igor Denisov, left, in action for Russia. (Jon Super/AP)

Russia did very well to survive a group that included Sweden and Austria to qualify for its third consecutive European Championship—especially after changing coaches following the departure of Fabio Capello. The Russians have largely underwhelmed at this tournament, although they did capture the hearts of neutrals with their run to the semifinals in 2008. This is an aging side, so this summer’s competition in France will be the last kick at the can for a number of national team veterans.

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moscow), Yuri Lodygin (Zenit St. Petersburg).
Defenders: Alexei Berezutsky (CSKA Moscow), Vasily Berezutsky (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Roman Neustadter (Schalke), Georgy Shchennikov (CSKA Moscow), Roman Shishkin (Lokomotiv Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg).
Midfielders: Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Dmitry Torbinsky (FC Krasnodar), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Oleg Ivanov (Terek Grozny), Pavel Mamaev (FC Krasnodar), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow).
Forwards: Artyom Dzyuba (Zenit St. Petersburg), Alexander Kokorin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Fyodor Smolov (FC Krasnodar).

A former goalkeeper during his playing days, Leonid Slutsky rose to coaching fame during his stint in charge of CSKA Moscow, where he won three league titles and two Russian Cups, before being appointed national team manager in 2015. He took over from Fabio Capello and saw Russia through the remainder of the qualifiers while still overseeing CSKA. This is his first major international tournament at country level.

4-2-3-1: (GK) Akinfeev – (D) Kombarov, Ignashevich, V. Berezutsky, Smolnikov – (M) Mamaev, Denisov – (M) Kokorin, Shirokov, Shatov – (F) Dzyuba

MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.

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June 11: vs. England in Marseille
June 15: vs. Slovakia in Lille
June 20 vs. Wales in Toulouse

While Austria ran away with their qualifying group, Russia was left to battle it out for second place with Sweden. The Russians took four out of a possible six points off the Swedes—including a crucial win in Moscow—to edge them for second spot by two points and claim an automatic berth at Euro.

Russia is not lacking for experience. Even with their injury problems (more on that in a second) they have a number of players (Akinfeev, Denisov, Shirokov, Ignashevich) who’ve been around the block and played in major international tournaments. Leonid Slutsky’s preferred 4-3-2-1 formation has proven to be effective, and makes efficient use of his player assets.

The recent loss of influential playmaker Alan Dzagoev (broken bone in his foot) deepened his country’s injury concerns going into this competition. Russia was already missing midfielder Denis Cheryshev, wing-back Yuri Zhirkov and fullback Oleg Kuzmin. All four of them are key players for Russia, who don’t really have another player as dynamic as Dzagoev to fill in for him.

Artyom Dzyuba: A powerful striker noted for his aerial ability and who leads the line, he provides Russia with a legitimate scoring threat up front. The Zenit Saint Petersburg finished as one of the top scorers in the qualifiers with eight goals.

Igor Akinfeev: The CSKA goalkeeper has been a mainstay with the national team for 12 years, and was a key figure in Russia’s Euro 2008 campaign when they reached the semifinals. He can make big saves when called upon, but has also been known to commit howlers now and again.

Alexander Kokorin: A winger who can also play as a forward, he’s a youngster with a great upside, but he still hasn’t lived up to his potential and hype. A strong showing in France could silence critics and lead to a possible move to Arsenal—he’s been linked with the club since the winter.

Can Artyom Dzyuba duplicate what he did during the qualifying campaign? He scored just over a third of Russia’s goals in the qualifiers, and he is a big reason why Russia will be competing in France. His country needs him to be just as prolific and hit the ground running in the group stage—otherwise, they’re going to have a tough time even making it to the knockout round.

Not too good, to be perfectly honest. Anybody expecting a magical run like the one the Russians made to the semifinals at Euro 2008 shouldn’t hold their breath. This is an old squad, and they’re dealing with too many injuries, and they simply don’t have enough dynamic players to make any kind of lasting impression. They might be able to get out of the group. But going beyond the Round of 16 would be a bit of a shocker.


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