5 stars Russia will rely on in the 2018 World Cup

5 stars Russia will rely on in the 2018 World Cup
Russia will host the World Cup in 2018 and is expected to make a strong statement. Can the hosts improve on past performances? We look at the key players the national team will rely on in the tournament.

After securing qualification from tricky Group G to guarantee a place at next summer’s Euro 2016, Russia have confirmed their participation at a third consecutive major international competition - blotting out the disappointment of missing out on the 2010 World Cup.

Despite the fact that the competition in France is vastly important for the progression of the game in the country, a strong performance in 2016 is also required ahead of hosting of the World Cup two years later.

Having the world’s biggest footballing event in Russia will be a significant milestone, but the host country will also hope to do more than merely make up the numbers in 2018.

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In the post-Soviet era, Russia has qualified for three World Cups, but failed to make it through the group stage on any of the occasions.

The proudest moment for the Russian national team in recent memory was the dramatic progression to the semi-finals of Euro 2008, playing some scintillating attacking football in the process.

Although the golden generation that was at Guus Hiddink’s disposal has now aged, a new group of gifted players is coming to fruition and will form the crux of the World Cup side in 2018. 

Here are five stars Russia will expect to rely on (fitness-permitting) at the tournament.

Aleksandr Kokorin

The 24-year-old has quickly become the poster boy for the Russian game, with Kokorin’s versatility, eye for goal and undoubted quality set to be a major asset for the team’s campaign on home soil.

The Dynamo Moscow attacker has a respectable strike rate at international level and continues to thrive for his club, with every chance that the gifted attacker could be playing in one of Europe’s major leagues by the time 2018 rolls around.

Finding a system that can get the best of Kokorin is a key task for Leonid Sluksky, with the Valuyki-born man able to be an attacking talisman for the national side.

Denis Cheryshev

The only member of the current national squad not playing his club football in Russia, Cheryshev is a burgeoning talent yet to show his best in his country’s colors.

After loan stints at Sevilla and Villarreal in recent years, the 24-year-old has returned to parent club Real Madrid and has been given the chance to feature sporadically for the European giants under Rafa Benitez.

Cheryshev’s technical ability on the ball, eye for a pass and final delivery could well be an enviable asset for Russia if the versatile wideman can live up to his potential.

Nikita Chernov

Russia’s current defense is starting to age, Stalwarts such as Sergei Ignashevich and brothers Vasili and Aleksei Berezutski will be struggling to feature in 2018.
Of the young potential successors coming through the ranks, Chernov is adjudged to be one of the brightest, having starred at national age-grade level and for club CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Youth League.

Still only 19, Chernov is yet to break into the CSKA team due to the presence of the afore-mentioned trio, but has already been called up and capped for the Russian national team.

If this imposing and committed enforcer can get game-time for his club, he could be a top-class component in 2018.

Aleksei Miranchuk

A prodigious talent with the potential to be the Russian side’s creative fulcrum, Miranchuk is another young player that has time to evolve before the World Cup on home soil.

A technically sublime midfielder with an excellent range of passing and footballing intelligence defying his young age, the 20-year-old has a good amount of senior football under his belt at Lokomotiv Moscow and has starred at national under-21 level.

Called up this year for his international debut for the senior side and scoring in the friendly fixture against Belarus, Miranchuk has the potential to be a feature for Russia for years to come.

Artyom Dzyuba

Something of a late bloomer after a hot-and-cold time of it at Spartak Moscow, Dzyuba has made a name for himself in recent years and looks set to lead the line for Russia for the foreseeable future.

The Zenit St. Petersburg centre forward is currently the top scorer in the Russian Premier League and has an impressive eight goals in just 13 caps.

Only Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller scored more goals that Dzyuba in Euro 2016 qualifying, and although there will surely be young pretenders challenging to take his place by the time of the World Cup, the 27-year-old looks like an important player for Russia.