When the draw was made for the group stages of this summer’s European Championships in France, all eyes homed in on England and Wales’ first meeting at a major Finals, but fellow Group B side Russia will be contenders too.
Under Fabio Capello, Russia laboured through their qualifying group, losing twice to Austria as well as registering a shock draw with Moldova.
But with the Italian gone, and five wins from six under new coach Leonid Slutsky, Russia could be much more like the force that saw them make the last four in Austria and Switzerland eight years ago.
We’ve done the scouting for you and laid out what you need to know about Group B’s second favourites…
Danger Man – Denis Cheryshev
He may have failed to break through into the Real Madrid team, but winger Denis Cheryshev has showed his dangerous qualities on loan at Villarreal and Valencia.
The 25-year-old has produced some sterling performances under Gary Neville at the Mestalla, and he’ll be out to either impress the Real head honchos, or the eyes of Europe’s top scouts. One way or another, he’ll be out to give as good as he’s got.
Possessing a daunting left foot, and with a keen eye for an assist, Cheryshev is likely to be at the heart of Russia’s best offensive plays.
Under the Radar – Artem Dyzuba
The Zenit St Petersburg striker contributed directly to half of Russia’s goals in qualifying, netting eight and assisting another.
He top-scored alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their group, but in truth, seven of them came against Liechtenstein or Moldova.
At 6ft 5in however, the 27-year-old must be kept in close quarters by centre-halves, and though he’s never been prolific, you don’t need to be at major finals. A very physical battle awaits.
The Lynch Pin – Roman Shirokov
CSKA Moscow midfielder Shirokov is very much the man who keeps Russia ticking over.
A UEFA Cup winner with Zenit in 2008, plus a two-time Russian Premier League champion, the 34-year-old skipper sits in the middle while making a late bid for the box, and has 13 international goals.
He rarely lasted the full 90 minutes in qualifying, but Shirokov – also happy at centre-half – was missed dearly in Brazil when ruled out through injury, and is crucial to keeping his team in check.
Under Capello Russia really didn’t shine, and though they are unlikely to make to repeat their semi-final place of eight years ago, they’re certainly improved under Slutsky.
Though they rarely thrill, Russia are never easy to beat, and should Dyzuba and Chersyhev play at their best, England and Wales could be in for very difficult fixtures.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.