RUSSIA RISES AGAIN
“Competitive, if unspectacular” is the conventional wisdom on the current Russia side. But the nation's soccer history is full of quirky characters and enigmatic teams, including the swashbuckling edition that nearly won the 2008 European Championship with a flowing attack fostered by Dutch manager Guus Hiddink.
The future looms large for Russia in 2014, with a positive display in Brazil seen as an important step in the countdown to their own hosting of the 2018 event.
GROUP H SCHEDULE
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Igor Denisov, M, Dynamo Moscow (at left): A strong-willed, combustible character, Russia's captain can anchor a midfield like few others in Europe when he's focused and fit.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov, F, Zenit St. Petersburg: One of the top finishers in Russian history, the veteran led his country in scoring during 2014 qualification A charismatic character who earned a rare honor as one of the torchbearers for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Sergei Ignashevich, D, CSKA Moscow: At age 34, he's getting a bit long in the tooth, but the veteran center back remains important to the cause as a calming influence at the heart of defense.
Fabio Capello (at right) surely did not relish the disappointing performance of his England team at the 2010 World Cup, yet the well-traveled Italian has rebounded in some style with an efficient renewal of a Russian team which was stunned to miss out on the tournament in South Africa.
Capello's teams are built on discipline, diligence and organized defending, and sure enough, Russia conceded just five goals in 10 qualifiers. His next challenge: Conjure up enough attacking dynamism to give the team a chance to make real noise in Brazil.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 7-2-1, 22 pts. / 20 GF, 5 GA (first place in Europe’s Group F)
Russia edged Group F favorites Portugal to the top spot by one point, overcoming back-to-back 1-0 road losses to Northern Ireland and Portugal over the summer by virtue of their perfect (5-0) record on home soil.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Their trip to Brazil ends a decade-plus World Cup drought for the Eastern Europeans, who lost out to Japan and Belgium in the group stage in 2002. The country's best finish was a fourth-place run in 1966 under their former identity as the USSR.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia made their debut as a post-communist nation at the 1994 World Cup in the USA, where striker Oleg Salenko set an all-time record with five goals in their final game, a 6-1 win over Cameroon at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. … Russia were upset by Slovenia on away goals in the UEFA qualifying playoffs for the final spots at South Africa 2010, and the small Adriatic nation went on to battle the USA to a controversial 2-2 draw in the group stage … Russia hosted the US national team for the Yanks' final match of 2012, an international friendly at Kuban Stadium in Krasnodar that ended 2-2 thanks to a late equalizer by Mix Diskerud … Former Russia captain Andrei Arshavin, a breakout star in his country's Euro 2008 campaign, has been rumored as a potential Designated Player target for MLS clubs in recent years.