Struggling World Cup Host Russia Aims to Avoid Embarrassing Group Exit

Russia is the second-lowest-ranked team in the field and is faced with a number of questions, but with a manageable group and the backing of the home fans, it's possible it reaches the knockout stage.
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Russia entered the World Cup for the first time in the 1994 USA tournament, having competed in international football before as the Soviet Union. In its short history as Russia, it has been to the World Cup three times and has been eliminated in the group stage on each occasion.

It did, however, have some success during 2008 European Championship, reaching the semifinals of that tournament. As hosts for the upcoming tournament, they will be hoping for better fortunes on their home patch, as they bid to make it out of the group stage at a World Cup for the first time. Here's a closer look at Russia and its World Cup hopes.

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How They Qualified


Russia secured their qualification for this tournament a long time before anyone else, all the way back in 2010. As the host nation, it automatically qualified for the tournament, going straight into Group A, and will kick off the competition in the opening match on June 14.

Russia has had to play a series of friendlies throughout qualifying to keep its competitive streak alive and allow the team to prepare for the tournament. It’s been a largely negative period for the hosts however, winning just four of their 18 international friendlies since the 2016 European Championship, where it exited in the group stage without winning a game. 

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Group Stage Games


Russia did receive a pretty favorable draw for the group stage, and it will therefore fancy its chances of at least making the knockout stage. Russia will kick off its World Cup campaign against Saudi Arabia, before subsequent games against Egypt and Uruguay.

Uruguay will be a strong favorite to win the group, with its squad boasting international superstars like Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin. Saudi Arabia, which went to its first World Cup in 1994, has also only qualified for three tournaments since, going beyond group stage once in its history. Egypt entered its first tournament back in 1934 but has only qualified once since and has never made it past the first round.

Egypt had hoped to be inspired by Premier League top scorer Mohamed Salah, but it is now left sweating on his fitness after his Champions League final injury. It was a real shame for the winger, but the Russian fans will be hoping Salah won’t be fit in time to face them. A win and a draw can be enough to get out of the group stage, and with the boost of being hosts, Russia will be targeting at least that.

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Possible Route to The Final


It’s not impossible Russia can win the group, as Uruguay isn't without its flaws, but England fans will be well aware of the threat they possess in the group stage after their 2014 tussle. If Russia finishes second in the group, it will make for a harder route for them in the next round.

The Russians would then likely face either 2010 World Cup champion Spain or current European champion Portugal in the next round. Those two will compete for the spoils in Group B. If Russia manages to make it beyond that round, Lionel Messi's Argentina could be waiting next. 

The likes of England or Germany could be waiting in the semifinals. Then it’s just a simple matter of potentially facing Brazil or France in the final, should the competition hold to form. It's a treacherous path for an underdog host.

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Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Brugge), Andrei Lunyov (Zenit St. Petersburg)

Defenders: Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Rubin Kazan), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Fyodor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrei Semyonov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg)

Midfielders: Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Gazinsky (FC Krasnodar), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit St. Petersburg), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Alexander Yerokhin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Zobnin (Spartak Moscow)

Forwards: Artyom Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Alexei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (FC Krasnodar)

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Predicted Lineup

5-3-2: Akinfeev; Samedov, Granat, Ignashevich, Kudryashov, Zhirkov; Cheryshev, Dzagoev, Golovin; Miranchuk, Smolov

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The purists will tell you there’s no such thing as a one-man team, but Russia’s fortunes will likely come down to one man, Salah. The Egyptian has been unplayable this season and should enjoy his running against all three of the defenses he may face in the group stage. If Egypt can get its star man patched up in time, Russia will have a difficult time catching either the Pharaohs or Uruguay, and it could mean an early exit for the hosts.

None of the sides they’ll face are beyond Russia though - recent form aside - and with the home crowd behind them, they do have the talent to beat any of the three sides. 

Conditions won’t fancy any of Russia’s opponents, so expect them to advance from the group stage. There’s a small chance they could cause an upset against a Portugal side that really punched above its weight in 2016, but don’t place any large sums of money on it.