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Andrei puts his shirt on win

HE WAS a spectator on the bench when Russia tore Ireland apart and just about ended Mick McCarthy's time as Ireland manager in 2002.

He was the main architect when Russia destroyed Ireland in Dublin 11 months ago.

And tonight, Arsenal man Andrei Arshavin plans to be the one to inflict more misery on Ireland in Moscow.

The former Zenit St Petersburg man may be a peripheral figure for his London club, but Arshavin is very much the heartbeat of this Russian team.

"If Arshavin plays well, Russia play well," one local reporter told the Evening Herald as the Russians held their final training session here in Moscow last night.

"We must win tonight because we are the home team," Arshavin told the Herald, his steely gaze and quiet voice indicating that he was deadly serious about his aims and the hopes of his country.

"It's an opportunity for us to kill off one of our opponents and we must take that opportunity.

"I like Ireland and the Irish people, I like the Irish players, but I honestly don't care who finishes second in the group as long as we win it.

"It's not of interest to me who goes through, only Russia.

"Tonight is a crucial game for both teams, both teams want to win because whoever loses tonight will become the outsider in the race to make it to the Euro finals, so it's a huge game for the two countries.

"I hope we win and I think we will. Every team should look to win their home games, we are the home team and we have to win it," he went on.

Russia made their debut as a football nation in their own right in 1992 and Arshavin has been part of the team since his debut in 2004, but one game stands out for the talented forward.

He has no real memory of that 4-2 win here in 2002 as he was an unused sub and, it might be hard to believe, but Arshavin was once on the losing side against Ireland -- he was a member of the Russian U21 team beaten 2-0 by Don Givens' side in Waterford in 2003, an Irish team which would produce players like Stephen Kelly, Liam Miller and Andy Reid.


But that win over Ireland in Dublin last October is very fresh in his memory.

"The 3-2 win in Dublin was a very good game for us. We played very well that night, to me it was one of Russia's best games since the Soviet Union broke up, maybe the best performance," Arshavin said.

"We have not played all that well since the game in Dublin so we're looking to repeat that level of performance and skill when we play this game tonight.

"Dublin was a good win for us because Ireland are such a strong side.

"I know the Irish players from the Premier League.

"I play against them every week but not just me, Russian fans know all about Stoke and Wolves and your players as Russian people see the English Premier League on TV every week.

"Players like Robbie Keane and John O'Shea are well known in Russia but people also know about Kevin Doyle, he's progressing very well in his career.

"To me, Ireland have a strong side and I think this will be a hard game for us, a physical game but a hard game."

Russia sit top of the Group B table thanks to Friday's win over Macedonia, a good night for the Russians overall as Ireland and Slovakia cancelled each other out with a Dublin draw.

"A draw in Dublin was the result I expected, to be honest, as both teams are very strong in defence," said Arshavin.

"Slovakia would have been very happy with a point before the game, so it was to be expected

"I was happy with our win on Friday.

"It was a great night for us.

"I didn't expect such an emotional night from our supporters, we have to be honest and admit that we were not so good in our last few games so we had a lot of criticism from the press and the fans.

"But I was happy with the win and the reaction, and I expect us to have a full stadium tonight."

When speaking to the Russian media after his interview with the Herald, Arshavin mentioned Russia's speed as one of their main "weapons" against Ireland, but he doubts that the artificial pitch in the Luzhniki Stadium will be a big issue.


"I don't think the artificial pitch is a factor any more," he said.

"Maybe it was in the past as those pitches were not so common, but now a lot of teams have them.

"What is important is how you play, not the grass that you play on."