Russia Gets Set as FIFA World Cup Kicks Off
Published: June 11, 2014 (Issue # 1815)
The FIFA World Cup starts tomorrow evening in Brazil as the host country takes on Croatia in the first of 64 games to be played over the next month. It is the world’s largest sporting spectacle and billions are expected to watch as 32 nations vie for the chance to be crowned as the best at the world’s most popular game.
For the first time in 12 years, Russia will be competing in the tournament. After finishing at the top of their qualifying group, the national team, nicknamed “sbornaya,” was drawn into group H, placing them alongside Belgium, South Korea and Algeria.
Their first match, against South Korea, kicks off at 2 a.m. on June 18 (Moscow time), followed by a showdown with Belgium in Rio de Janeiro at 8 p.m. on June 22 (Moscow time) before finishing the group stage against Algeria at 12 a.m. on June 27 (Moscow time). If Russia finishes as one of the top two teams in their group, they will play against one of the top two teams from Group G, which features Germany, Portugal, the United States and Ghana, in the round of 16.
The Russian team exclusively features players from the Russian Premier League, including five from this year’s champions CSKA Moscow and four from Zenit St. Petersburg. Coached by Italian manager Fabio Capello, who led England out of the group stage at the last edition of the tournament in 2010 before Germany demolished them 4-1 in the next round, the national team hopes to avoid a repeat of their last appearance at the World Cup.
In 2002, Russia was also drawn in Group H with an eerily similar draw to this year’s, placed in a group with Belgium, Tunisia and Japan. After beating Tunisia 2-0 in their first game, they lost to co-hosts Japan 1-0, a result which sparked riots in Moscow that killed 2 people. The national team lost 3-2 in their final game against Belgium after conceding two late goals and they were eliminated from the tournament.
Russia, however, will be without former Zenit St. Petersburg player and national team captain Roman Shirokov. The midfielder has not played since April and will undergo knee surgery in Finland this week. He has been replaced in the squad by 21-year-old midfielder Pavel Mogilevets, who plays for Rubin Kazan on loan from Zenit.
It is yet another eerie similarity to Russia’s last appearance in the World Cup. In 2002, then midfielder and playmaker Alexander Mostovoi missed the tournament after injuring his thigh several weeks before it began.
Shirokov’s former teammate and current Zenit St. Petersburg striker Alexander Kerzhakov is the only member of the 2002 team in this year’s squad. Now 31, he is one goal away from matching Vladimir Beschastnykh’s record 26 goals for the national team, a mark Kerzhakov will have a chance to surpass at this tournament.
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