It is now ten years since Russia last qualified for a World Cup. They begin their attempt to qualify for the 2014 edition at home to Northern Ireland tomorrow (16:00 BST), their visitors having waited even longer to grace world football’s biggest stage, last qualifying in 1986.
After six years of Dutch rule, under Guus Hiddink and then Dick Advocaat, the Russian Football Federation have turned to another highly-paid foreign coach in Fabio Capello.
The Italian led England to the 2010 World Cup with a record of nine wins and one defeat in a group that included Croatia and the Ukraine – an achievement that should not be forgotten regardless of England’s substandard performances at the tournament itself.
Capello is unlikely to stand for the complacency that has plagued the Russian national team and led to their early elimination after such an excellent start at Euro 2012. He has already instigated a reform of the bonuses paid out to players, insisting they should only receive them when a global goal, such as World Cup qualification, is achieved, rather than for each individual victory.
His squad for the Northern Ireland match also raised eyebrows, omitting as it did Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak, mainstays of the previous regimes.
The likes of Dinamo Moscow youngster Aleksandr Kokorin – so impressive for Russia’s U21 side – and Artem Dzyuba of Spartak Moscow are among those Capello hopes can step up to the mark in their absence.
Northern Ireland are also under relatively new stewardship, with former Shamrock Rovers coach Michael O’Neill having replaced Nigel Worthington at the helm of the national team in December last year.
His first two friendly matches in charge resulted in 3-0 and 6-0 defeats to Norway and the Netherlands respectively, but there were more encouraging signs in Northern Ireland’s most recent fixture, a 3-3 draw with Finland at Windsor Park.
O’Neill has had to deal with an injury crisis leading up to the trip to Russia, with Paddy McCourt, Shane Ferguson and the inventive second striker Martin Paterson all missing out.
Good news comes in the form of the return of defenders Johnny Evans and Aaron Hughes, both of whom were absent for the country’s last two fixtures. However, both were present when Northern Ireland went down 3-0 to Norway in O’Neill’s first match in charge. With the coach generally favouring quite an attacking approach, their return is unlikely to shore up a worryingly porous defence.
Russia often laboured at home to smaller nations in qualifying for Euro 2012, losing to Slovakia, drawing with the Republic of Ireland and scraping a one goal victory over Macedonia. But all of those teams sat deep and looked to frustrate the Russians, something that Northern Ireland look incapable of doing if recent form is anything to go by.
Russia vs Northern Ireland Betting Tips Verdict
Capello’s men are the clear favourites to emerge victorious from this match, but best odds of 2/9 hardly offer an attractive bet unless combined with others in an accumulator. We therefore need to look at other markets that offer more enticing returns for single bets.
- One of these is the anytime goalscorer market, which sees Alan Dzagoev priced at an appealing 5/4 (Betfred & BetVictor). The CSKA Moscow forward scored three times at Euro 2012 and also got Russia’s goal in Capello’s first match in charge, a 1-1 friendly draw with the Ivory Coast last month.
- We’d also fancy Russia to win by at least two goals, so taking Russia -1.5 on an Asian Handicap at 7/10 with BetVictor appears good value.