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May 28, 2012

Euro 2012 Tactics - Russia

The Manager - Dick Advocaat

The veteran Dutchman will take charge of Russia for the last time at Euro 2012 after he confirmed a return to club football with PSV Eindhoven next season, yet that will not dilute his ambition to go out on a high as an international coach.

"I always said I would like to return to PSV before my coaching career has finished and this is the perfect moment," says the 64-year-old, who managed the Dutch club for the first time between 1995 and 1998. "However, this does not change my focus for Euro 2012. All of us involved with Russia have worked hard to get to this position and cannot ignore the chance in front of us."

Advocaat was hired to replace Guus Hiddink as Russia boss two years ago, with his success during a spell with Zenit St Petersburg (which included a UEFA Cup win in 2008) ensuring he had a rock-solid reputation in Russian football circles.

However, his spell in charge of the national team has hardly been smooth. Russian football fans jeered and booed the manager and his players midway through the Euro 2012 qualifiers, with senior members of the team coming under fire from fans and media after what was hailed as a lack of passion being shown by established international starters.

The Captain - Andrey Arshavin

There has been plenty of debate in Russia over whether the Arsenal outcast is worthy of a place in Advocaat's team, with his flat attitude and downbeat body language doing little to silence those who believe he has lost some of his appetite for the game.

The 0-0 Euro 2012 qualifying draw against Armenia in March of last year inspired many Russian fans to come to the conclusion that Arshavin was more of a hindrance than a inspiration to their cause, yet Advocaat has stuck by his leader, even after he was tossed aside by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and loaned out to Zenit St Petersburg from February.

That move may have worked in Russia's favour as Arshavin has shown signs of returning to form ahead of Euro 2012, playing his role in helping Zenit secure the Russian title and producing glimpses of the magic that once saw him hailed as one of the most skilful players in European football. If he shows top form this summer, the fans who criticised him will happily eat humble pie.

The Formation

Advocaat will not spring any surprises in his line-up this summer, with the 4-3-3 formation he champions certain to be his gameplan at Euro 2012.

"I like a 4-3-3 as it gives me options both in terms of personnel and the and the way we operate," says Advocaat. "The players appreciate what is expected of them and even of we make changes to the names on the team-sheet, the way we approach the game will not change."

Advocaat likes to operate with a lone striker, likely to be Zenit St Petersburg's Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who is given licence to drift across the frontline and create space for the two wide players supporting him, with Arshavin and CSKA Moscow starlet Alan Dzagoev taking those roles.

With both Arshavin and Dzagoev drifting inside at times, the full-backs are encouraged to burst forward, though such attacking intent can leave Russia open to speedy counter attacks. This is where more conservative midfielders Igor Denisov, Roman Shirokov and Konstantin Zyryanov are defensively vital.

Russia looked at their best in the Euro 2012 qualifier against Ireland in Dublin, as slow and predictable opponents could not halt their attacking intent or hurt them on the break. Time will tell whether they are given such an easy ride this summer.

The Weak Spot

The attitude of big-name players like Arshavin and striker Roman Pavlyuchenko is always unpredictable and Russia's hopes may rest with Advocaat's ability to handle the inflated egos within his squad.

Russia have had a very settled squad throughout Advocaat's reign as boss, but that can be counter-productive as the suspicion is some of his star names have become a little too comfortable in their positions. All concerned need to prove their international ambitions burn as brightly as ever.

Injury Nightmare

The fitness of first choice keeper Igor Akinfeev has been a concern all season after he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury, but he needs the veteran to be at his best as he is a key men at the back.

Russia's defence is often viewed as a soft touch, but a record of conceding just four goals in ten Euro 2012 qualifiers suggests they can keep it tight when needed. The fitness of centre-back Sergei Ignashevich has been in doubt after he broke a toe in April and with limited back-up, Advocaat has to hope the battled hardened professional is at his best.

The Young Gun - Alan Dzagoev

Dzagoev may only be set to celebrate his 22nd birthday mid-way through Euro 2012, yet this CSKA Moscow star is already an experienced performer for club and country, having played well over 100 games for his club side and leading the scoring stats for Russia in their qualifying push for this tournament.

He heads into Euro 2012 following an enforced break after he broke a toe playing for his club side in April. Coach Advocaat can hope the lay-off will mean one of his key men is fresh and hungry for the Euro 2012 battles ahead.

What they Say

The Verdict

Being drawn in a weak Group A is a break Russia need to make the most of and if their star men turn on the style in what may be their final major tournament together, they should get through to the knock-out phase of Euro 2012.

 

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