The final places in next year’s World Cup will be decided in the play-offs during the current international break. But one side that will definitely be there is host nation Russia.
Russia have a very poor tournament record since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
They failed to qualify for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. And they’ve won just two of their nine World Cup games since 1994.
The only time they’ve got out of a major tournament group since 1994 was at Euro 2008, when Andrey Arshavin inspired them to the semi-finals.
Now they’re 33/1 to win the World Cup on home soil.
As the host, Russia qualified automatically. By the time the tournament arrives, France’s 1998 triumph will be the only time a host has lifted the Jules Rimet trophy since 1978.
With no qualifiers, Russia have only played friendly matches and at the Confederations Cup since Euro 2016.
Friendly matches don’t provide the intensity of a competitive game. Even with the support of a whole country, it’s hard to suddenly turn it on when the tournament begins.
To be fair, Russia have been in decent form. Since an embarrassing defeat to Qatar last year, they’ve only lost three of 11 games. Those losses came against Ivory Coast, Mexico and Portugal.
All three of those sides have more individual quality than Russia, which is their biggest issue. The World Cup features many of the best players on the planet. And none of them play for Russia.
Captain Igor Akinfeev is best known for conceding in 43 straight Champions League group stage games, a run that now stretches 11 years.
The only member of the current squad to play in a major European league is centre-back Konstantin Rausch. Even then, Rausch plays for Koln, who are stranded at the bottom of the Bundesliga.
Russia could ride a wave of support into the last 16 next summer. But it’s hard to see them getting to the latter stages of their own party.
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