Friendly International Preview: Italy-Russia
2/8/2005 11:23:00 PM
Both teams will view this friendly as ideal preparation for the up and coming World Cup 2006 qualifiers in March. Italy boss Marcello Lippi has openly stated that there will be little difference between the team named tonight and the one that will face Scotland next month. Russia boss Georgy Yartsev on the other hand, looks set to experiment in view of trips to Liechtenstein and Estonia, where they will be looking to return with maximum points.
Despite currently sitting top of their group, Italy have been far from convincing since Lippi took over from the disappointing Giovanni Trapattoni. Italy have won four and lost two under the new boss. The performances by the teams he has put out have not been of the highest standard although results have been good (barring the loss in Slovenia of course). With the large array of talent available in Italy at the moment, fans generally expect to see the team put in far more compelling performances.
Italy have a good record against the Russians in all competitions. Having met 5 times they have recorded 2 wins and 3 draws. The last meeting was a World Cup 1998 playoff match where Pierluigi Casiraghi scored the winner in yet another topsy-turvy win. The match ended 2-1 to gli azzurri.
Russia are not in such bad form themselves considering the squad they have. After a disappointing Euro 2004 they appear to be improving steadily under the new boss. Despite being third in their current qualifying group for the World Cup in Germany they are by no means out of the running for second spot. They responded very well to the 7-1 mauling received away to Portugal in October by beating Estonia 4-0.
Both teams will be missing key players through injury. The biggest absence perhaps being that of Roma’s Antonio Cassano who withdrew earlier this week. Cassano was followed home from the Italian training ground by Sampdoria’s Aimo Diana. The latter is expected to be ruled out for much longer than originally predicted. Russia make the trip to Italy with only 17 individuals following very late withdrawals. Coach Georgy Yartsev insists there is no ’emergency’ and that he has all the players he needs for the tie.
Italy (all competitions – oldest result first): LWWLWW
Narrow victories and the odd loss is not what is expected of Italy so they are by no means on the right path yet. Lippi has included many on form players in the current squad and we wait to see whether they can carry this form onto the International stage.
Russia (all competitions – oldest result first): LDWLWW
Excluding the embarrassment in Portugal the team has performed well against weaker opposition. The defence is still a little shaky and it will be put to test for sure in this friendly. A good result in Italy would boost moral ahead of the next few qualifiers.
Italy: In addition to injured personnel, Gianluca Zambrotta has been left out of the squad as he will be suspended for the Scotland game in March. Alessandro Del Piero has also been ignored along with Lazio’s Massimo Oddo. Lippi is expected to use two formations during the match, a 4-3-1-2 and a 4-3-3 to accommodate the Cagliari duo of Esposito and Langella.
Russia: The injured group of players include Roman Pavlyuchenko, Andrei Arshavin, Vladmir Bystro, Igor Akinfeyev and Alexei Berezutsky. With only 17 players in the squad, Russia will just about be able to use all six substitutions on the night.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Yet again Francesco Totti will be the man to keep an eye on. If Lippi begins with the
4-3-1-2 he will be expected to fill the gap in between the midfield and the strikers. He is a class act on his day and appears to be maturing into the player many would like to see more often. His Roma teammate Vincenzo Montella should also be monitored given the fact that he is currently top goalscorer in Serie A. Expect fireworks from the Cagliari crowd if Mauro Esposito and Antonio Langella are introduced. Both are very much on form at present and will be keen to perform well in front of their home fans.
Alexei Smertin is expected to captain the side and will have a big role to play in keeping an eye on Totti. The creative threat will most likely come from 21-year-old left-winger Yuri Zhirkov and the experienced Dmitry Alenichev. Both will look to get forward and provide opportunities for the lone striker without leaving too many gaps for the Italians to exploit.
Italy should be too strong in every department for the Russians who are missing many first team regulars. As usual it will depend on which Italy team steps on to the field and whether the stars can play as a team for 90 minutes. Attitude will be the telling factor.