1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 2002.
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Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow). A few years ago, the 23-year-old was one of the hottest prospects in the world. The playmaker hasn’t bombed, exactly, but he hasn’t really broken out either. His potential is still scintillating, but now is his chance to really announce himself on the international scene.
Action Images / ReutersKAI PFAFFENBACH
There are really two histories here. That of the Soviet Union, which is rich, including four straight quarterfinals appearances and one semifinals run from 1958 through 1970. And that of Russia, which is rather sparse: three failures to qualify and two group-stage exits.
AFP/Getty ImagesPATRICK HERTZOG
Fabio Capello has a problem. Well, maybe that’s not quite right. Because the problems of any man who has wrangled a $12.5 million-per-year contract for what is essentially a part-time job are pretty much relative – a salary covered by an anonymous donor, by the way, since the federation is perennially broke. But the veteran Italian manager does face a complication. His team, plain and simple, aren’t very good. And four years from this summer’s edition, the Russians will host the World Cup on their home soil, a tournament through which Capello has been signed through, even though he will turn 68 this summer. They will expect to be competitive and not to emulate South Africa as the only host country not to make it out of the group stage. The challenge, then, for Capello this summer will be not so much to compete as to try to lay the groundwork for a respectable showing in 2018.
Action ImagesHenry Browne
How they got here
In a neck-and-neck race to the top spot in Group F of European qualifying with Portugal, Russia ultimately won out. They split their head-to-head games, so it all came down to the other games. While Portugal took three wins and a tie on the road to Russia’s two wins and a tie, the Russians were perfect at home whereas Portugal had to settle for two draws. In the end, a lone point made the difference and Russia qualified directly by winning the group.
Action Images / ReutersSERGEI KARPUKHIN
How they drew
Favorable. In Group H, Russia will take on Belgium, Algeria and South Korea. And seeing as this team has fallen off quite a bit since its run to the semifinals of Euro 2008, that’s a good outcome for the Russia, because it gives them a decent chance.
AFP/Getty ImagesNELSON ALMEIDA
Their round of 16 prospects look
Bleak. Group H’s winner will take on the runner-up of Group G and vice versa, meaning Russia would have to face Germany, Portugal, Ghana or the United States. Assuming – because let’s be honest with ourselves – that it’s one of the first three, Russia are likely in serious trouble.
AFP/Getty ImagesKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV
This is a hard one to call. Two decades after Russia ceased to be such a mystery to the rest of the world, its soccer team remains an enigma. Certainly, it ought to be better for a country of its size, but then it does produce decent players. Still, they never quite seem to come together for the World Cup. Dzagoev is a marvelous playmaker on his day, but like most of the squad, he’s short on international experience. Of the Russian players called up in the last year, just one -- twice-capped Denis Cheryshev -- plays abroad, and that’s a real sticking point on the international scene.