When the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) split into independent nations at the end 1991, the nation of Russia had already a stable government to take over affairs of the nation.
However, one thing they could not transfer from the USSR was their strong football record on the World Cup stage.
Russia emerged from the USSR rubbles in 1994 for her first World Cup appearance, but got knocked out at the group stage despite legend Oleg Salenko scoring five goals — a FIFA World Cup™ record — in the 6-1 rout of Cameroun.
After another group-stage exit in 2002, it has been a re-building period for the Red Army, who failed to qualify for both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup editions. Twelve years down the line, however, the oil-rich nation is back.
After Coach Guus Hiddink weaved his magic on the European stage at Euro 2012 but could not break the country’s World Cup hoodoo, Fabio Capello was thereafter hired specifically for this purpose. The former England manager has overseen a change in team ethos, which is similar to the nation’s quiet modus operandi. The 67-year-old Italian has silently made the national team a cold and resilient team that can spark to life any time.
Boasting star names, such as Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Igor Akinfeev, Vasili Berezutski, Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kokorin, all of whom have decided to stay in the chilly conditions of the Russian league, they can also count on the wealth of experience of Captain Igor Denisov and veterans Sergei Ignashevich and Yuri Zhirkov, the former Chelsea winger.
If Russia would better their group-stage exits in their two previous outings, they would need to count on coach Fabio Capello’s wealth of experience as their open-secret weapon. Capello has made Russia defensively solid and hard to beat, with the team winning their qualification group ahead of much-fancied Portugal. They conceded just five goals in the process, and his team did not concede more than a goal in all their matches. He used just 24 players in qualification campaign and enjoys the fact that all his players are Russia-based; therefore, the understanding in the team is high. Capello, 67, has won it all at club level and will be hungry to prove he can translate this onto the international stage.
Apart from the coach, 23-year-old Alan Dzagoev is the hope of Russian fans — just like Andrei Arshavin was some few years ago. The CSKA Moscow attacker is a high-scoring midfielder who already has over 30 goals for his club. He finished joint top scorer in Euro 2012 and the nation would hope he would carry his goal-scoring prowess into the World Cup.
Just like every Capello team, the weakness of the Russian team is hardly noticeable. However, the team is composed of players who play their football in Russia’s chilly conditions, and the warm climate in Brazil could be a deciding factor that ultimately scuppers the Russian World Cup dream.
Target man, Alexandre Kerzhakov, is probably in his last World Cup, and the former Sevilla man is the country’s second-highest scorer at 24 goals — two less than the record holder. However, the chance to become the highest goal scorer of all time could spur the31-year old to lead his country to a better a World Cup experience in Brazil.