Russia at Euro 2016: Slutsky’s men aim to cause upset

Russia at Euro 2016: Slutsky’s men aim to cause upset
Russia head into the upcoming UEFA European Championship in France aiming to make an impact similar to the one they recorded in their run to the semi-finals in Austria in 2008.

After disappointing at both Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup, Russia face England, Slovakia and Wales in Group B and will be hoping to at least reach the last 16 at this year's tournament.

Russia started slowly during the qualifying stages, but four wins in row helped Leonid Slutsky's team to secure second place in the group behind Austria. 

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With just two wins in six friendlies since qualifying, Russia will need to raise their game in Saturday's opener against England.

Roy Hodgson's side head into the tournament with just two defeats in their last 22 matches and with plenty of attacking options to choose from, they represent a formidable challenge to the Russians.

Veteran center-backs Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski could have their hands full, with the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Wayne Rooney all capable of causing them problems.

The teams have met just twice in the last decade, with each recording one victory.

The Russians face Slovakia the following Wednesday for a fixture which has historically proved to be a tight encounter.

The teams have played nine times since 1994, with Russia claiming three wins and four draws to just edge the head-to-head.

With neither Russia nor Slovakia winning any of those games by more than a single goal, Wednesday's clash is likely to be a defensive affair.

Slovakia are unbeaten in their last eight games, a run which included an impressive 3-1 victory in Germany.

Russia complete their Group B fixtures against Wales on June 20.

Playing in their first major finals since 1958, Wales have become a force to be reckoned with in recent times.

Gareth Bale is their star man, but with three wins and a draw in their previous four meetings the Russians will be confident of victory if they can keep the Real Madrid winger quiet.

With all-time Russian top scorer Alexander Kerzhakov left out of the squad, either Zenit St. Petersburg's Artyom Dzyuba or Krasnodar's Fyodor Smolov is likely to lead the line in Slutsky's 4-2-3-1 formation.

Smolov's understanding with club mate Pavel Mamaev could possibly tip the scales in his favor and after notching more than 20 goals in the Russian Premier League last season he would be the perfect replacement for Kerzhakov. 

Slutsky still has some decisions to make in midfield, with injuries to key players disrupting his preparations.

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Alan Dzagoev and Yuri Zhirkov were both ruled out before the squad was picked, while Igor Denisov's withdrawal with a thigh injury has meant a late call-up for Artur Yusupov.

The Zenit midfielder joined the squad after staying in the same Monaco hotel while on holiday, although he will have plenty of catching up to do, not having trained since the end of the domestic season.

With four third-placed teams set to join the top two from each of the six groups in the first knockout stage, it would be a major disappointment for Russia if they fail to reach the last 16.

While England are big favorites to win Group B, Russia have should have enough firepower to see off both Slovakia and Wales to progress to the next round.

Russia Euro 2016 squad

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Lodygin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moscow)

Defenders: Aleksei Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Vasili Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Roman Neustadter (Schalke 04), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow), Roman Shishkin (Lokomotiv Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg)

Midfielders: Dmitri Torbinski (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Oleg Ivanov (Terek Grozny), Pavel Mamaev (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow), Artur Yusupov (Zenit St. Petersburg)

Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Zenit St. Petersburg), Aleksandr Kokorin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar)