Sport Soccer

Friday 23 June 2017

The Russians are coming... but who are they?

Yuri Zhirkov, seen here tackling Spain's David Silva, is likely to be in action for Russia at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night. Photo: Pat Murphy / Sportsfile
Yuri Zhirkov, seen here tackling Spain's David Silva, is likely to be in action for Russia at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night. Photo: Pat Murphy / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THEY come with a reputation that instils fear and Marco Tardelli considers them to be one of the top 10 sides in the world.

But how much do the Irish players really know about the Russian side they will face in Dublin tomorrow night?

Between now and kick-off, Giovanni Trapattoni will show his squad video clips of Group B's top seeds, who arrive in desperate need of victory after their shock reverse to Slovakia last month.

While their Euro 2008 exploits remain fresh enough in the memory, we live in a Premier League bubble in this part of the world. So it is the names of Andrey Arshavin and the injured Roman Pavlyuchenko that are all too easily cited when the strengths of Dick Advocaat's side are discussed.

"I haven't seen too much of them," conceded Ireland's Sean St Ledger, a player who likes to do his own additional research on international weeks. "I looked through their squad and saw they have a lot of players with the top Russian teams.

"I suppose Pavlyuchenko is the best-known striker as he plays in the Premier League, but whether he's the best striker, I don't know. I think it means they will play the lad who has scored a lot of goals in the German league (Pavel Pogrebnyak)."

The individual names don't roll off the tongue easily, but the anticipated line-up for this Euro 2012 qualifier features the nucleus of the team that wowed audiences in Austria and Switzerland two summers ago. Indeed, it's plausible that the Lansdowne starting XI could include eight of those who lined out in the semi-final of that competition.

Advocaat, who replaced Guus Hiddink, has brought in a stricter regime, with the hotel closed to journalists and previous excesses banned.

Personnel-wise, however, it's a very similar formula that this Dutchman prefers. Here are the key individuals:

Igor Akinfeev

Age 24

Club: CSKA Moscow

Position: Goalkeeper

Made his debut aged 18 and has been tipped for greatness ever since, with plenty of attention from clubs across Europe. Still with CSKA, however, and was guilty of the error which gifted a victory to Slovakia last month.

Aleksandr Anyukov

Age: 28

Club: Zenit St Petersburg

Position: Right-back

Impressed in Euro 2008 with his overlapping ability, and has been at Zenit St Petersburg since 2005, subsequently contributing to their UEFA Cup success. Spent his early career with Krylya Sovetov, a club that St Patrick's Athletic knocked out of the Europa League last year.

Vasili Berezutskiy

Age: 28

Club: CSKA Moscow

Position: Centre-half

The big defender has been with CSKA Moscow for the last eight seasons and was on the periphery of their Euro 2008 adventure before being drafted in to play in the semi-final defeat to Spain. His twin brother Aleksei is also in the squad.

Sergei Ignashevich

Age: 31

Club: CSKA Moscow

Position: Centre-half

Experienced performer, another to have spent his entire career in his homeland. A club-mate of Akinfeev and Berezutskiy at CSKA for the last six seasons. Won his first cap for Russia back in 2002.

Yuri Zhirkov

Age: 27

Club: Chelsea

Position: Left-back

Another member of the CSKA clan until Chelsea swooped in 2009. Had grabbed attention a year previously at Euro 2008, where his dazzling forays forward added another dimension. Ashley Cole's presence at Stamford Bridge means he is deployed elsewhere for his club, but he will be back in his favoured role here.

Igor Semshov

Age: 32

Club: Dynamo Moscow

Position: Central midfielder

A firebrand in his youth, the 32-year-old has calmed down in recent years, and really began to settle into the international team under Hiddink. Has moved around between various Russian clubs, now in a second stint with Dynamo after a failed period at Zenit.

Roman Shirokov

Age: 29

Club: Zenit St Petersburg

Position: Central Midfielder

A journeyman midfielder who was tried out at centre-half in the first game of Euro 2008 and failed miserably. More comfortable further forward and called out of international wilderness this year to be given another chance by Advocaat.

Alan Dzagoev

Age: 20

Club: CSKA Moscow

Position: Winger

Youngster tipped for great things, who scored a Champions League goal against Manchester United as a teenager. An exciting talent, though there are some suggestions he may be dropped to the bench for this game.

Konstantin Zyryanov

Age: 33

Club: Zenit St Petersburg

Position: Central midfielder

Advocaat brought Zyryanov to Zenit and transformed him into one of the top players in Russia. Moving to St Petersburg was a fresh start after tragedy struck during his time in Moscow, losing his brother and father before his wife killed herself by jumping from an apartment block with their young daughter in her arms.

Andrey Arshavin

Age: 29

Club: Arsenal

Position: Left wing/striker

Needs no introduction really. Inspired Zenit to UEFA Cup success before lighting up the European Championships in 2008. Moved to Arsenal the following year and recognised as one of the best players around. Serious ability to roam and create problems for opponents.

Pavel Pogrebnyak

Age: 26

Club: Stuttgart

Position: Striker

The German-based frontman should start in the absence of Pavlyuchenko, and is coming into the game off a good run of goalscoring. Another of Advocaat's UEFA Cup winners at Zenit who took the plunge and moved west.

Vladimir Bystrov

Age: 26

Club: Zenit St Petersburg

Position: Right midfield

Suggestions are, the pacy winger will be brought in to give Kevin Kilbane a headache. Was at Spartak when Advocaat was Zenit manager, and the pair fell out, with the boss stating that Bystrov would never play for his hometown club while he remained in charge. Advocaat left, and Bystrov got the switch to St Petersburg that he desired.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov

Age: 25

Club: Everton

Position: Midfielder

The man whose name provides plenty of difficulty for people in Merseyside and around the rest of the UK, so 'Billy' will have to do. Has impressed sporadically since moving to England from Lokomotiv Moscow.

Alexsandr Kerzhakov

Age: 27

Club: Zenit St Petersburg

Position: Striker

Maverick frontman who dirtied his bib by getting sent off in the play-off loss to Slovenia that cost Russia a place in South Africa. Spent time in Spain with Sevilla and is very capable on his day, earning a recall after nabbing a couple of hat-tricks with Zenit in recent weeks.

Irish Independent

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