Euro 2016 a stepping stone to home World Cup for rapidly improving Russian team

By , on December 11, 2015

Russian World Cup squad (Photo from
Russian World Cup squad (Photo from

For Russia, it’s all about the home World Cup in 2018, but the European Championship is a great practice run.

Fewer than six months ago, it seemed as if qualifying could turn into an embarrassment as Russia floundered outside the automatic qualifying places with just two wins from its previous 10 competitive games under Fabio Capello.

That all changed after the Italian coach departed in July.

Under his replacement Leonid Slutsky, Russia won all of its four remaining qualifying games to overtake Sweden and secure an automatic qualifying spot.

Still, some worries persist for Russia, especially regarding its inability to break down determined defences and resist counterattacks. Both vulnerabilities were on show against lowly Moldova in October, when Russia struggled to a 2-1 win in front of a hostile crowd.

It’s also an aging team, especially in defence, where the first-choice centre-back partnership is the CSKA Moscow duo of 36-year-old Sergei Ignashevich and 33-year-old Vasily Berezutsky, who have superb tactical nous but are increasingly lacking in pace.

Slutsky has taken a short-term view so far, removing many of the young players who tried out under Capello and bringing in veterans like the 34-year-old right-back Oleg Kuzmin, who was handed an international debut in September.