One year ahead of the World Cup, Russia will host the 2017 Confederations Cup as preparation for the planet's biggest sporting event. What five things should you know about the hosts heading into this tournament?
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The 'golden generation' is all but gone
Russia's best ever tournament finish came when they made it to the semifinals of UEFA Euro 2008. They went on a dream run to get that far, but were demolished, 3-0, by eventual winners Spain. Now, just about all of the players that got them there are gone. Veteran defenders Vasily Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich have retired, as are Andrey Arshavin, Igor Semshov and Aleksander Anyukov. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and midfielder/defender Yuri Zhirkov are the only holdovers.
Their best players are out with injury
The CSKA Moscow pair Alan Dzagoev and naturalized Brazilian Mario Fernandes won't be taking part in this tournament due to injury. Dzagoev, who would be Russia's leading scorer, was withdrawn with an unspecified injury, while Fernandes has undergone surgery on his nose and will miss out.
Aleksandr Golovin may be their brightest hope
Linked with a move to Arsenal, Aleksandr Golovin is probably the brightest talent in this Russian team. The CSKA Moscow midfielder has won 10 caps and scored two goals for his national team, and the hosts will likely lean heavily on his talents both in this tournament and in the World Cup. They'll need him too, as there's a distinct lack of real quality throughout the squad.
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Igor Akinfeev is a must-watch -- for better or for worse
Igor Akinfeev has the potential for the highest of highs and the lowest of lows -- often within the same match. The CSKA Moscow keeper has won 96 caps for Russia, but he's become more known for his high-profile gaffes than the spectacular saves he's often capable of. Once known as one of the brightest young talents in the world, Akinfeev's just as prone to drop a clanger as he is to paw one out of the top corner. You can't take your eyes off him, even on a routine back pass.
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Russia need this Confederations Cup
One of the problems with hosting the World Cup is the automatic spot in the tournament takes the team out of qualifying. That means a dearth of competitive matches and the Confederations Cup will be Russia's only real test in the 2.5 years leading up to the World Cup. This is the best preparation that the hosts will get before next year's tournament. They need to make the most of it.