Russia entered the World Cup for the first time in the 1994 USA tournament, having competed in international football before as the Soviet Union. In their short history as Russia, they have only been to World Cup three times and have been eliminated in the group stages on each occasion.
They did, however, have some success during 2008 European Championships, reaching the semi-finals of that tournament. As hosts for the upcoming tournament, they will be hoping for better fortunes on their home patch, as they bid to make it out of the group stages at a World Cup for the first time.
How They Qualified
Russia secured their qualification for this tournament a long time before anyone else, all the way back in 2010. As the host nation, they automatically qualified for the tournament, going straight into Group A, and will kick off the competition on the 14th of June.
Russia have had to play a series of friendlies throughout qualifying to keep their competitive streak alive, and allow the team to prepare for the tournament. It’s been a largely negative period for the hosts however, winning just four of their 18 international friendlies since the 2016 European Championships, where they also exited in the group stage without winning a game.
Group Stage Games
Russia did receive a pretty favourable draw for the group stages, and they will therefore fancy their chances of at least making the knockout rounds. Russia will kick off their World Cup campaign against Saudi Arabia, before subsequent games against Egypt and Uruguay.
Uruguay will be strong favourites to win the group with their squad boasting international superstars like Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin. Saudi Arabia also went to their first World Cup in 1994 and have also only qualified for three tournaments since; going beyond group stage once in their history. Egypt entered their first tournament all the way back in 1934 but have only qualified once since, and have never made it past the first round.
They had hoped to be inspired by Premier League top scorer Mo Salah, but they are now left sweating on his fitness after his Champions League final injury. It was a real shame for the winger but the Russian fans will be hoping Salah won’t be fit in time to face them. A win and a draw can be enough to get out of the group stage, and with the boost of being hosts, Russia will be targeting at least that.
Possible Route to The Final
It’s not impossible Russia can win the group, as Uruguay aren’t without their flaws, but England fans will be well aware of the threat they possess in the group stage. Russia will likely finish second if they do make it out of the group, which will make it a harder route for them in the next round.
The Russians will likely face either 2010 World Champions Spain or current European Champions Portugal in the next round. Those two will compete for the spoils in Group B and the winner of that showdown will likely be Russia’s next opponents. If they do manage to make it through that round, it will likely be Lionel Messi’s Argentina up next for Russia. Although based on their recent form it’s no guarantee, but Argentina should have a fairly simple run up to the quarter finals.
They could then face England in the semi finals but it will much more likely be reigning World Champions Germany. Then it’s just a simple matter of either Brazil or France in the final, who will be the favourites to emerge victorious from the other side.
Russia have named a 35-man preliminary squad, containing recognisable stars like long-standing goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, former Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov and star striker Fyodor Smolov. Full preliminary squad below:
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Club Brugge), Soslan Dzhanaev (Rubin Kazan), Andrey Lunev (Zenit St Petersburg), Marinato Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moscow);
Defenders: Vladimir Granat, Fedor Kudryashov (both Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Roman Neustadter (Fenerbahce), Konstantin Rausch (Dynamo Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg), Sergei Ignashevich and Mario Fernandes (both CSKA Moscow), Vladislav Ignatiev (Lokomotiv Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow);
Midfielders: Yuri Gazinski (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev (both CSKA Moscow), Aleksandr Yerokhin, Yuri Zhirkov, Daler Kuzyaev (all Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Zobnin, Aleksandr Samedov (both Spartak Moscow), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Aleksandr Tashaev (Dynamo Moscow), Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow) and Anton Shvets (Akhmat Grozny);
Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Aleksey Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar), Fedor Chalov (CSKA Moscow), Anton Zabolotny, Dmitry Poloz (both Zenit St Petersburg).
5-3-2: Akinfeev, Samedov, Granat, Neustadter, Kudryashov, Zhirkov, Glushakov, Dzagoev, Golovin, Miranchuk, Smolov
The purists will tell you there’s no such thing as a one-man team, but Russia’s fortunes will likely come down to one man, Mo Salah. The Egyptian has been unplayable this season and should enjoy his running against all three of the defences he will face in the group stage. If Egypt can get their star man patched up in time, Russia will have a difficult time catching either them or Uruguay, and it could mean an early exit for the hosts.
None of the sides they’ll face are beyond Russia though – recent form aside – and with the home crowd behind them, they do have the talent to beat any of the three sides.
Conditions won’t fancy any of Russia’s opponents, so expect them to advance from the group stage. There’s a small chance they could cause an upset against a Portugal side who really punched above their weight in 2016, but don’t place any large sums of money on it.
Prediction: Round of 16