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Russia face centre-back crisis

Russia
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Russian Embassy trolls England

Toe Poke
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Russia face centre-back crisis just weeks before the World Cup finals

Ian Darke hosts a special round table of ESPN FC experts who assess Russia's chances of capitalising on a favourable World Cup draw.
A sneak peak of episode 2 of Martin Ainstein's Russian odyssey takes him to World Cup host city Nizhny Novgorod, famous for its Matryoshka dolls.
Join Martin Ainstein on his trip to St. Petersburg in an extract from episode 1 of Last Train to Russia, airing on ESPN networks throughout this week ahead of the World Cup.
Join Martin Ainstein on a 12-episode series exploring Russia through the 2018 World Cup host cities, starting this week across ESPN networks.

"We are starting everything from scratch again," Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said of his defence after the World Cup hosts were thrashed 3-0 by Brazil in Moscow on Friday. Little more than 11 weeks before the opening game of the most important tournament in the country's history, Russia don't have a single decent centre-back to rely on.

Russia were announced as the World Cup hosts in December 2010, meanining that they had more than seven years to prepare. Apart from wasting outrageous...

ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

World Cup squads: Who is on the plane to Russia, and who is in limbo?

Tite insists Brazil won't rush Neymar back for the World Cup.
Tite insists Brazil won't rush Neymar back for the World Cup.
Tite insists Brazil won't rush Neymar back for the World Cup.

The international break gives countries a chance for another look at their squads, with the World Cup looming. 

ESPN FC has correspondents for each team at the World Cup, and they've assessed the state of play in the country they're covering.

Here's a look at who has booked their tickets for the plane to Russia (assured of a place in their World Cup squad), who is in the departures lounge (could make it, could miss out) and who is stuck in traffic (likely to miss out) as the race to reach the...

 By Nick Ames

World Cup 100 days out: fan safety, price-gouging, racism among concerns facing Russia

With 100 days to go until the FIFA World Cup, Ian Darke joins a group of ESPN writers and experts for a roundtable discussion about what to expect in Russia this summer.

MOSCOW -- When Lionel Messi and Argentina stepped out at the Luzhniki Stadium in November, it felt like a dress rehearsal for Russia 2018's dream final. A capacity crowd filed past the monolithic statue of Vladimir Lenin, through the impeccably preserved Soviet-era facade and into plush, renovated stands. Lining up on the pitch were, in one half, the best player in the world and his teammates; opposite them a team representing the host nation whose fans displayed a banner reading "Together we are...

Once coveted by Jose Mourinho, Mario Fernandes has made Russia home

Six years ago, then-Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho made Mario Fernandes his top target ahead of the January 2012 transfer window. Mourinho personally contacted the young Brazilian, who played for Gremio, but Madrid president Florentino Perez had other ideas. He didn't want to pay €15 million for a largely unknown player and wanted to blood a homegrown right-back who had made huge progress on the reserve team -- Dani Carvajal.

By the time Mourinho managed to convince the board that the Fernandes...

 By Nick Ames

With World Cup draw complete, hard work starts for 32 teams, hosts Russia

Dan Thomas and the FC crew believe the top-seeded countries will all be delighted with their matchups at the World Cup.
ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti predicts who will emerge from each group at the 2018 World Cup.
ESPN FC's Craig Burley does not feel Russia will emerge from Group A that also contains Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Uruguay.

MOSCOW -- Even within the surrounds of his official residence, it still prompted a double take to see Vladimir Putin take the stage ahead of the World Cup draw.

The Russian president walked out alongside Gianni Infantino, his FIFA counterpart, and composed himself before addressing the 6,000-capacity state concert hall. Those inscrutable features are a regular sight on television screens the world over; now here he was in the flesh, holding forth on the culture and traditions of his nation and assuring...

 By Nick Miller

World Cup Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

ESPN FC's Craig Burley debates whether Russia can get past Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in Group A.

Hosts Russia could hardly have wished for a better World Cup draw. The opening game of the tournament will be against Saudi Arabia, which by the FIFA rankings, at least, is technically the worst match in the tournament.

Uruguay and Egypt should both have their wild cards and standout performers, but you fear for the chances of Saudi Arabia, who went through two coaches in qualifying.

Predicted finish

1. Uruguay -- Oscar Tabarez could go with a flying, attacking team with their two superstars...