Russia up against it in Euro warm-up
25 May, Euro 2012 friendly: Russia v Uruguay (Moscow, 5.45pm UK)
You might have thought that, with the tournament looming, Russia would have settled for a nice gentle warm-up to their Group A schedule. Perhaps Albania at home? Oh no. Dick Advocaat and squad will face the sternest of tests when they take on Uruguay, the third-ranked country in the world, in Moscow on Friday.
Yes, the same Uruguay who reached the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before losing 3-2 to Holland; and the same team that heads the South American phase of qualifying for the World Cup finals in 2014. They are unbeaten after three matches and lie ahead of Argentina and Venezuela on goal difference, having played one game less.
Uruguay also have other matters on their mind, with a World Cup qualifier against Venezuela in Montevideo on June 2. So with places up for grabs, they are unlikely to be holding back. And Advocaat, surely, would not want a hammering as Russia bid farewell to their fans before heading off to Switzerland for other friendlies against Lithuania and Italy.
Mind you, hope is not particularly high outside their camp, anyway, with many critics feeling that the team reached its free-flowing peak when making the Euro 2008 semi-finals – the year in which Zenit St Petersburg also won the Uefa Cup. “If we do not qualify for the knockout stages,” a Russian commentator warns, “the reaction in the country will be furious”.
Should that happen, Advocaat will not be inclined to hang about for too long afterwards. The Dutchman is due to end his stint in charge and head off for PSV Eindhoven. At 31 after the tournament is over, Andrei Arshavin, the Russia captain, could also call it a day. Some are questioning already the merit of the inclusion in the squad of Zenit’s on-loan Arsenal midfielder.
Roman Pavlyuchenko is another North London reject, having left Tottenham Hotspur for Lokomotiv Moscow, who will be hoping to recapture his form of Euro 2008. A change of scenery, though does not appear to have altered his White Hart Lane whinge mentality. “It is not enough to come on as a substitute from time to time,” he said of his ill-fated spell with Spurs.
Russia, ranked 11th in the world, will be glad to escape with a draw in Moscow. And if they don’t, if they take a beating, then whoever sanctioned this fixture so close to the start of the Euros – and presumably Advocaat agreed to it, too – should to be taken for a longish holiday on the Costa del Siberia.
Prediction: Russia 1, Uruguay 1
Group A update: Poland defeated Latvia 1-0 in a friendly in Klagenfurt, Austria, on Tuesday, Artur Sobiech scoring the 82nd-minute winner. They next meet Slovakia, also in Klagenfurt, on Saturday. Greece take on Slovenia in Kufstein, Austria, on Saturday; the Czech Republic face Israel in Hartberg, Austria, on the same day.