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2018 FIFA World Cup contenders - Russia

2018 FIFA World Cup contenders – Russia

The erstwhile Soviet Union saw their best footballing years in the 1950s and 60s when they had some exceptionally talented players in the likes of Lev Yashin – still the only goalkeeper to have won the Ballon d’Or, Vsevolod Bobrov – not just football, but also a legendary bandy and ice hockey player, and Eduard Strelstov amongst others. The Soviet Union were a dominant force in those years and went on to win the gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne as well as the first ever European Championship in 1960 held in France.

The break-up of Soviet Union in 1991, meant that the talent of the Soviet Union was now spread across several different countries, diminishing the talent pool that Soviets had.

However, Russia are still producing talented players across all areas of the pitch, and they have successfully qualified for the European Championship due to be held in France this summer.

Russia will also play host to the 2018 World Cup and being hosts, they will be expected to have a good tournament. Russian football has gone through a bit of stasis in recent years as they failed to make the knockout stage of the World Cup in Brazil in the summer of 2014. They crashed out of the group stage at the 2012 European Championship after finishing behind the Czech Republic and Greece in the tournament co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland. Russia couldn’t even qualify for the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa.

In Brazil World Cup, the Russians failed to win any of their three games, drawing with South Korea and Algeria, and losing to Belgium to crash out tamely from the tournament. Their performances drew severe criticism back home, with many calling for Fabio Capello to be sacked from the helm.

The Italian held on, but was eventually relieved of his duties last year with CSKA Moscow boss Leonid Slutsky appointed at the helm. The Russian has managed to get his side to the Euros, but the side severely lacks any big names or assuring figures who can take the side to considerable heights in France this summer.

Russia still have over two years to get a strong side in place for the 2018 World Cup and do well in their home tournament.

CSKA Moscow goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is the undisputed number of the national team, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov and Aleksei Berezutski are veteran defenders ahead of him, but the fact that all of them will be above or near 35 means they cannot be the players to build the side around in two years’ time.

Alan Dzagoev, Denis Cheryshev, Artyom Dzyuba and Oleg Shatov are some of the recognizable faces in the squad, but Russia will need a lot more than them, or prove themselves of being more than the sum of their parts if they are to go far in their home World Cup in 2018.

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