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Moscow News
October 5, 2009
Make or break for Russia [re: World Cup]
By Andy Potts

The eyes of Europe will be on Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium this Saturday as Russia host Germany in the most important World Cup qualifier of the season.

The stakes couldn't be higher - victory for Germany books their ticket to South Africa, and leaves Russia sweating on a two-legged play-off.

Victory for Russia, meanwhile, puts them top of the group and needing a win away to Azerbaijan to secure automatic qualification.

A draw leaves Guus Hiddink's side hoping for a favour from Finland, who travel to Germany while the Russians go to Baku.

Hiddink told Sovietsky Sport last week that his team would need to play even better than they did to beat England 2-1 on their way to Euro 2008.

With injuries affecting the defence, and loss of form plaguing many of their strikers, the hosts will have to rely on a strong midfield to stifle the Germans, according to ex-Spartak and USSR forward Yury Sevidov.

Sevidov regards Vladimir Bystrov as "unquestionably the best player in the country", but warned that his unpredictability could pose a problem.

And, as he told RIA Novosti, the option of fielding Zenit St. Petersburg's usual midfield quartet, or augmenting it with the likes of Dinyar Bilyaletdinov (Everton), Sergei Semak (Rubin) or Dmitry Torbinsky (Lokomotiv) makes the centre of the park Russia's strongest area.

The greatest weakness is in defence, where injury rules out Dinamo's Denis Kolodin. With CSKA's Vasily Berezutsky likely to deputise alongside clubmate Sergei Ignashevich, there won't be much pace at the heart of the rearguard.

And left-sided fulcrum Yury Zhirkov is recovering from an injury which ruled him out of Chelsea's opening games, meaning Hiddink has a tough choice between him and the match-fit Renat Yanbayev.

Up front, although Arsenal's Andrei Arshavin scored in his last two games, there are question marks over his partners.

Roman Pavluchenko is out of favour at London rivals Spurs and returned to Moscow early last week to train alone after hearing he wouldn't be needed for their trip to Bolton.

Pavel Pogrebniak is settling into a new role at Stuttgart and Alexander Kerzhakov is finding life difficult as a lone frontman at struggling Dinamo, while rising star Alan Dzagoyev received "a spanking" from new CSKA boss Juande Ramos, Sevidov noted.

Meanwhile, as in the memorable 2007 European Championship qualifying win over England, the plastic pitch in Moscow could become Russia's secret weapon.

Few top-level internationals take place on artificial surfaces, and German skipper Michael Ballack is aware of the potential problems in adapting to the Luzhniki field.

"We can't let the artificial pitch be an excuse for us - we'll just have to adapt to the conditions," the Chelsea star said last week.

"Russia have got a strong team so we will have to be at our very best if we are to get something out of our trip to Moscow."

Russia v Germany, Sat. Oct. 10, 7 pm

Live TV coverage on Channel One

Bonus balls

FIFA has confirmed that the draw for the qualification play-offs will be seeded, meaning that Russian will be kept apart from the likes of France or Portugal.

With a world ranking in the top 10, they could expect to face one of the four weakest group runners-up - possibly including Bosnia or Slovenia - in a tie where they would be favourites to progress.

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