GROUP H
Russia

THE 60-SECOND OVERVIEW

It’s little exaggeration to say that Russia’s World Cup fortunes have been miserable since the dissolution of the USSR. This is only the country’s third finals appearance in six attempts, and they failed to progress beyond the group stage in their previous two – Oleg Salenko’s unlikely five-goal haul in a dead rubber against Cameroon 20 years ago being the lone highlight.

That might be about to change, though. Fabio Capello has steered an experienced side to relatively trouble-free qualification – no mean achievement after a disastrous early exit at Euro 2012 – and, while expectations are hardly overwhelming, Russia have enough about them to enter uncharted territory this year.

THE DREAM

Go deep. Russia’s only real template for international success is Euro 2008, when an Andrey Arshavin-inspired outfit shrugged off an early defeat by Spain to play some scintillating football en route to the semi-finals, where the Spaniards halted them once more.

There's no Arshavin this time, but Capello’s side has a compact, rigorous look. Progression through Group H could well mean a round of 16 tie with Germany; if the Italian - who won’t have forgotten England’s fortunes at the same stage in 2010 - can mastermind an upset, it would propel Russia’s notoriously brittle footballing self-esteem to new heights.

THE NIGHTMARE

A repeat of Euro 2012. Then, an Alan Dzagoev-inspired 4-1 win over the Czech Republic appeared to set Russia fair for a prosperous summer – and a draw with Poland seemed fine too.

But things unraveled spectacularly when Dick Advocaat’s side lost to a limited Greece outfit to miss out on a quarter-final place – an indignation crowned by an unseemly argument between Arshavin and Russian supporters. More of the same this time? Our instincts say not, but a final group fixture against outsiders Algeria might have a familiar echo or two – and could be a nervy affair if Russia have to win.

THE STATS
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DID YOU KNOW?

Left-back Dmitri Kombarov faces a month apart from identical twin brother Kirill. the pair have spent their careers together, rejoining Spartak Moscow from Dinamo Moscow in 2010.

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Russians haven't reached the knockouts since the Berlin Wall came down, but Capello's compact and orderly team should put that right.