Russia kicks off their World Cup campaign against South Korea in Tuesday's late game, and I'm here to give you a preview of how they should perform and what their squad looks like going into their first World Cup in 12 years.
Russia were solid if uninspiring through their qualifying campaign, going toe to toe with the established force of Portugal, but also struggling with lesser sides like Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan. The highlights of the qualifying campaign were certainly the 1-0 defeat of Portugal and 4-0 demolitions of Israel and Luxembourg. On the other hand, Capello's side will be disappointed with falling to a defeat against Northern Ireland and a draw and narrow win over Azerbaijan.
Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Lodygin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Sergei Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan)
Aleksei Kozlov (Dynamo Moscow), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Andrei Semyonov (Terek Grozny), Vladimir Granat (Dynamo Moscow), Vasili Berezutskiy (CSKA Moscow), Andrei Yeshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow)
Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Pavel Mogilevets (Zenit St. Petersburg/Rubin Kazan), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (Dynamo Moscow), Aleksandr Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Victor Faizulin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Aleksei Ionov (Dynamo Moscow)
Maksim Kanunnikov (Rubin Kazan), Aleksandr Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow), Aleksandr Kerzhakov (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Russia's captain, Roman Shirokov misses out thanks to injury, allowing Pavel Mogilevets (a player with only 13 professional matches under his belt) the chance to play. Most of the other large absences were due entirely to Capello's bizarre squad selection. The second highest RPL goalscorer this season, Artem Dzyuba, was oddly left in the standby squad in place of Maksim Kanunnikov, who was sub-par over the past year. Similarly, Mogilevets and Faizulin getting the call over Oleg Ivanov and Dmitri Tarasov in central midfield can only be seen as absurd. Further odd call ups were made in defence, as the underperforming Andrei Semyonov and Andrei Yeshchenko were selected in central defence in place of Vladimir Rykov and Dmitri Belorukov. Meanwhile, Aleksei Kozlov was selected over Roman Shishkin, Arseni Logashov and Igor Smolnikov in a decision that, while less bizarre, is certainly still puzzling.
The Group Stage Opponents:
South Korea and Russia actually met in a friendly last October, and an under strength Russia side still managed to take a 2-1 win. Expect Russia to improve on that result with a much better (although still below full strength) squad, as opposed to that of South Korea, which looks like one of the four or five worst in the tournament on paper.
Prediction: 4-0 Russia
Belgium have been touted by many as dark horse contenders for the World Cup, and it's easy to see why. Despite lacking natural fullbacks, Belgium's defence is incredibly solid, with two outstanding keepers and a plethora of fantastic central defenders. The midfield is also incredibly strong, featuring players such as Eden Hazard, Mousa Dembele and Axel Witsel. On top of that, the 'Red Devils' have two very physical strikers in Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke that are capable of bullying even the best defenders, and should make light work of the aging Ignashevich and Berezutskiy.
Prediction: 2-1 Belgium
Despite clearing their qualifying group fairly comfortably, Algeria don't really look like threatening Belgium and Russia for the top two places. The African side is clearly strongest in midfield with the likes of Sofiane Feghouli, Nabil Bentaleb and Saphir Taider, but lack quality in most of the other areas of the squad, meaning that they will likely struggle to get a result against everyone except South Korea.
Prediction: 3-1 Russia
Possible Knockout Opponents:
The most likely option for Russia to play in the round of 16 is Germany, who sit as favourites for first place in Group G, and should thus play the second placed team in Group H. On top of this, Germany also sit as one of the favourites to take the tournament as a whole, and should overrun a weakened Russia in midfield, while a sturdy and capable defence will limit the chances that Russia has to score.
Prediction: 4-1 Germany
Having already played Russia in qualifying, Portugal are something of a known commodity for the Russia squad. Capello will want to take advantage of the lessons learned in the matches that the two teams contested and will look for the team to make an early impact on the game should they meet Portugal in the knockout rounds. Despite this and the positive result that Russia got against Portugal in October 2012, it seems likely that the Iberians will take the win, although in a much closer fought match than would be seen against Germany.
Prediction: 2-1 Portugal in extra time
This Russia squad looks like a lock for second place in Group H behind Belgium, but the poor squad selection will likely limit any progression further than the round of 16. While it is possible that the squad manages to take first place from Belgium, it is far more likely that they will be the runners up and will thus have to face the winner of Group G. Both of the most likely options look like fairly comfortable winners against Capello's men, and if Germany indeed faces Russia, a rout seems likely.
Group Stage: 2nd
Round of 16: Knocked out by Germany or Portugal