Saturday, June 14, 2014 6:21 pm
ITU (AFP) – Fabio Capello’s Russia have a point to prove as they prepare for their first match at a World Cup since 2002, veteran defender Vasily Berezutskiy said on Saturday.
The former Soviet Union reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in England in 1966 but Russia, fielding a squad of entirely home-based players, have a dismal record in recent years.
They failed to get beyond the group stages in 1994 and 2002 and did not even qualify for the finals in Germany in 2006 or four years later in South Africa.
“We have things to prove in this World Cup,” Berezutskiy, who has 78 international caps under his belt, said at the team’s training camp in Itu, outside Sao Paulo.
“It’s been 12 years since Russia have participated in the World Cup so our objective is to play more than three games, try to qualify from our group and after that we will see.”
Russia — hosts of the next World Cup in 2018 — begin their campaign against South Korea but Berezutskiy picked out Belgium as the favourites in Group H.
“For us the next game is the most important one so we’re focusing on Korea,” the 31-year-old said. “I think Belgium are the favourites because they have a young and quality team and can improve.”
The CSKA Moscow player said ex-England manager Capello was the biggest star in the squad because of his track record of success across Europe.
Young forward Maksim Kanunnikov welcomed the Italian manager’s strict approach, for which he was criticised when England manager.
“Capello demands discipline and it’s a good thing because everyone is working hard, giving 100 percent in every session,” he said.
And the 22-year-old said having all the players based in Russia made for a tight-knit squad in which everybody knew each other.
“On the other hand, nobody knows us from outside as everybody plays in the domestic competition,” he added.
Russia impressed in qualifying, topping a group that contained Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and come into the tournament unbeaten in their past 10 games.
One of those matches was a 2-1 win against South Korea in Dubai last November.
Russia will have do without injured captain and goal-scoring midfielder Roman Shirokov but Kanunnikov shrugged off concerns over a lack of striking options, saying there were a number of players with attacking qualities.
Russia play South Korea in Cuiaba next Tuesday, while Belgium, boasting a strong youthful squad featuring the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany, take on Algeria in Belo Horizonte.