Euro 2012: Russia hoping to do better this time

Few football fans knew much about Russia heading into the last

European Championship, where the young squad turned into one of the

teams of the tournament by reaching the semifinals.

Four years later, Russia is built around a nucleus of the same

players, is again led by a Dutch coach, and will be looking to go a

step further in Poland and Ukraine.

Russia coach Dick Advocaat has fielded a largely unchanged

lineup since the last European Championship, building trust and

experience among players who almost all compete in Russia’s

national league.

”It will be to our big advantage as we read each other by just

a glance,” Russia forward Roman Shirokov said.

The players also know the coach well since Advocaat led Zenit

St. Petersburg to the UEFA Cup title in 2008, a run that

underscored the potent threat of Russia’s national team on the eve

of the last European Championship.

Advocaat took over from Guus Hiddink after Russia’s failure to

qualify for the 2010 World Cup, reuniting him with several stars

from his time in St. Petersburg.

”I already had worked (in Russia) and of course I knew the

players well,” Advocaat said. ”I just built on a group of CSKA

players and Zenit players.”

That lack of fundamental change has fueled criticism that the

squad is getting too old, but playmaker Andrei Arshavin

disagrees.

”There are advantages because we understand each other well,”

Arshavin said in an interview with UEFA. ”We know each other.

We’re used to each other.”

Arshavin, who is back at his boyhood club Zenit on loan from

Arsenal, said he hoped for some young players to force their way

into the squad ”because no team can live without being

renewed.”

It could come at the expense of midfielder Sergei Semak, who

captained Russia at Euro 2008.

”Advocaat hardly regards me as member of his team but I will do

my best in the final matches of the Russian league season to prove

that I’m ready to play,” Arshavin said.

Russia plays in Group A against co-host Poland, the Czech

Republic and Euro 2004 champion Greece.

”The European Championship is a special event where all teams

are highly motivated,” Russia striker Alexander Kerzhakov said.

”Definitely Poland, which is playing at home, will be the most

difficult opponent, though the Czechs and Greece are also tough

opponents.”

Russia has fond memories of playing Greece in the European

Championship. It beat eventual tournament winner Greece in the

group stage in 2004 and broke down the stubborn Greek defense in

Salzburg four years ago for a 1-0 victory that kick-started

Russia’s campaign after a demoralizing 4-1 loss to eventual

champion Spain in its first match.

Russia has never won an international tournament as an

independent state. The Soviet Union team featuring goalkeeping

great Lev Yashin won the first ever European Championship in

1960.

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Associated Press writer Leonid Chizhov in Moscow contributed to

this report.