Group A: Russia face an uphill battle as hosts

Getting to the knockout stages would be a major achievement for a very average team

Russia (500-1)

Who are they?

The first time hosts come into this tournament as one of the lowest ranked of the 32 countries and with a lot of pressure to prove that they can compete in some capacity. Since the highs of the semi-finals at Euro 2008 they have failed to advance past the group stages of any major tournament and were they not hosting the World Cup are unlikely to have qualified.

Dressing room unrest has plagued the squad for a number of campaigns now and their performance at Euro 2016 was particularly dismal with three losses out of three. Since then they have had to survive only on friendlies, although last year’s Confederations Cup gave them some competitive action which resulted in two losses and a single win over New Zealand. As hosts go, they look pretty weak.

World Cup moment

Back in the days of the Soviet Union the Russians were a highly feared force. In 1966 they arrived in England and swatted aside North Korea, Italy and Chile in the group stages on the way to reaching the semi-finals with Lev Yashin the star. In a politically-charged semi-final with West Germany they were finally beaten and then also lost out to Eusebio and Portugal in the third place playoff.

How did they get here?

As hosts they qualified automatically. Bar their three games at the Confederations Cup they have had to make do with friendlies and even those haven’t gone too well with their last win coming over South Korea in October 2017.


The gaffer

If you’re looking for an exciting manager playing exciting football then make Russia your very last port of call. Stanislav Cherchesov is a former Soviet Union goalkeeper and very much a fan of a dour, direct approach. Russia don’t have a lot of expectation going into this tournament but, given the draw, they will be hoping to at least get through the group. Failure to do so and Cherchesov will very likely be shown the door.

The main man

Central midfielder Aleksandr Golovin is the current great white hope of Russian football and, at just 21 years of age, has already played 81 times for CSKA Moscow. He has recently been linked with Arsenal and an impressive World Cup will surely seal him a move abroad.

The one to watch

Special attention should be paid to the 22-year-old twins Aleksei and Anton Miranchuk from Lokomotiv Moscow. They are identical, they play for the same team, they are both midfielders but so far it’s Aleksei who has made somewhat more of an impact in Russia.

The verdict

On paper Russia should have little or no chance but the fact that they’re hosts could inspire them. They couldn’t have asked for a better draw and qualification for the round of 16 would be a real achievement. They will then most likely face Spain or Portugal, however, so you’d expect that is as far as they could get.

The squad

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Brugge), Andrey Lunev (Zenit St Petersburg)

Defenders: Vladimir Granat, Fyodor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semyonov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg), Mario Fernandes, Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow)

Midfielders: Yury Gazinsky (Krasnodar), Alan Dzagoev, Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Alexander Erokhin, Yury Zhirkov, Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Zobnin, Alexander Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal)

Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Alexei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar)