Team Profile – Russia
Number of European Championship Appearances: 4 (since independence from Soviet Union)
Best European Championship Performance: Semi Finals (2008)
Number of European Championship titles: 0
Qualifying Form: Played 10 Won 6 Draw 2 Lost 2
Coach: Leonid Slutski – appointed August 2015
Most Capped player: Sergei Ignashevich (115 caps)
Key Player at Euro 2016: Artem Dzyuba
Russia’s hopes of appearing at Euro 2016 were on life support following a turgid start to qualifying that saw them collect just a single win from their first six games.
They lost home and way to eventual group winners Austria – both times by a single goal – and they also drew with Sweden and Moldova while they were awarded three points after their game in Montenegro was abandoned with the scores level following crowd trouble.
That form finally led to the Russian FA dispensing with high-profile manager Fabio Capello in June 2015.
CSKA Moscow manager Leonid Slutski was summoned to take over for the remainder of the campaign and what followed was a transformation in Russia’s form and, seemingly, the morale within their camp.
Slutski faced an arduous task to unite a fractured dressing room for what was the crucial game of his tenure against Sweden last September, but that is what he did.
Artem Dzyuba scored the only goal of the game and Russia were back on track. They made no mistake in taking care of Liechtenstein, Moldova and Montenegro in their final three games and pipped the Swedes to the runners-up spot behind Austria as a result.
While concerns remain over a somewhat aging backline, Russia possess enough promise in their attacking departments to suggest they can qualify from Group B.
They begin their campaign with a tough encounter against England in Marseille on June 11 before moving to face Slovakia in Lille and, finally, Wales in Toulouse on June 20.
Given the lack of tournament experience that Slovakia and Wales possess, the Russians will attempt to make their past endeavours count.
Slutski’s preparations for Euro 2016 were dealt a potentially crucial blow when CSKA Moscow midfielder Alan Dzagoev withdrew from the squad with a broken metatarsal in late May.
The 25-year-old has been a key influence on the team and showcased his ability to perform on the big stage by scoring three times at Euro 2012, finishing as joint top scorer in the tournament.
His loss is undoubtedly a tough one to endure for a manager who knows exactly what he is capable of.
Russia’s record at the European Championships is somewhat patchy. They raced into the semi-finals at Euro 2008 – where they gave best to a Spanish side on the brink of international domination.
However, they have also failed to emerge from the group stage in three of their previous four attempts.
They can look to decent records against all three of their Group B opponents in order to boost confidence.
Russia have won three of their seven competitive games against England while they have beaten Wales five times in eight. They have tasted defeat just once in four competitive internationals against Slovakia.
Slutski has intimate knowledge of a vast chunk of his squad. When he accepted the call to manage Russia last year, he did so while maintaining his role as boss of CSKA Moscow. Seven of the 23-man squad bound for France play their club football at CSKA.
Captain Roman Shirokov is one such player. At 34, he is a key component for his current manager and started all four qualifiers that Slutski took charge of – by contrast he had started only three of the six that Capello oversaw.
Up front, Zenit St Petersburg’s Dzyuba is likely to be the figurehead for Russia in this summer’s tournament. The 27-year-old was the top goalscorer in their qualifying campaign, netting eight times.
Record cap-holder Sergei Ignashevich is set to play at the heart of the defence with Vasili Berezutski and Igor Smolnikov also likely to earn the call against England.
Georgi Schennikov and Dmitri Kombarov are seemingly vying for one slot at left full-back. While the former has ties with Slutski at CSKA Moscow, it could prove that Kombarov’s additional experience – and the fact the manager will not want to risk damaging morale with any perceived favouritism towards the CSKA contingent – will swing that battle in his favour.
CSKA goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev however was ever present in qualifying and will likely retain the gloves against Roy Hodgson’s England team in Marseille.
Key Player – Artem Dzyuba
While much will still rely on skipper Shirokov in the No.10 role, it will be the ability of Dzyuba to keep finding the net that dictates Russia’s Euro 2016 storyline.
The Zenit forward was prolific in qualifying, thriving on the service of wide men Aleksandr Kokorin and Oleg Shatov in particular.
Eleven of the 21 goals Russia notched in qualifying came against Liechtenstein, including five of eight from Dzyuba – and that must be a worry.
Euro 2016 Prospects
After Capello’s team had threatened a car-crash campaign, the Russians are content just to be going to Euro 2016. Slutski has successfully instilled a team spirit and togetherness in the camp that was decidedly missing before he arrived.
Playing England in their opening game could prove a positive, particularly if the Three Lions take time to find their feet.
Thereafter, Russia will find themselves against two nations for whom major tournaments are not commonplace.
It would be optimistic to suggest Russia have a team capable of repeating their Euro 2008 semi-final appearance but they do appear equipped to at least double their tally of knockout stage appearances.
June 11 – England (Stade Velodrome, Marseille)
June 16 – Slovakia (Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille)
June 20 – Wales (Stadium Municipal, Toulouse)
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Lodygin (Zenit St Petersburg), Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moscow).
Defenders: Aleksei Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Vasili Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Roman Neustadter (Schalke), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow), Roman Shishkin (Lokomotiv Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg).
Midfielders: Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Dmitri Torbinski (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Oleg Ivanov (Terek Grozny), Pavel Mamaev (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow).
Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Zenit St Petersburg), Aleksandr Kokorin (Zenit St Petersburg), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar).