The Russia coach Leonid Slutsky’s preparations for Saturday’s opening group game against England, already badly hampered by injuries suffered in the buildup to the tournament, endured further disruption when three more players were ruled out of training.
Slutsky, credited with raising the mood after Fabio Capello’s dismal and costly spell in charge, was denied Dmitri Torbinski at the team’s session here in Paris’s western suburbs on Wednesday, with Vasili Berezutski and Denis Glushakov also forced to undertake light fitness work away from the group.
Although Russia hope all three will be able to play some part in Marseille, their absence denied Slutsky an opportunity to work on his side’s shape as he attempts to fill the void left by Igor Denisov’s absence in midfield.
He tore a thigh muscle in the final warm-up game, a 1-1 draw against Serbia in Monaco last Sunday, prompting Slutsky to call up Artur Yusupov who was staying in the squad’s hotel. The Zenit St Petersburg midfielder had no boots or kit with him and had been on holiday before the sudden call-up. Denisov is one of five notable absentees from the squad, joining Alan Dzagoev, Denis Cheryshev, Yuri Zhirkov and Oleg Kuzmin.
The squad took to the training pitch on Wednesday wearing T-shirts with the message: “Igor, we are with you.” “It’s such a shame because he was one of our key players, the captain in that last game against Serbia, and we wanted to show our support for him,” said the midfielder Pavel Mamaev. “For him it was going to be a really important tournament. The coach has not detailed for certain anything about central midfield now, but we’ve lost a key player, and that’s a shame.
“The coach will find an answer. There were a few players missing today because we don’t want to risk anything in case there are more worries about injuries. Hopefully they will be ready to play. The coach is certainly doing everything he can to make sure we will be ready for the England game.”
The injuries have added to the sense of chaos which has too regularly undermined Russia’s approach over recent times. The team were in danger of missing out on the tournament until Capello’s dismissal last July – the Italian was nicknamed the “iron wall” in Moscow and had earned around £8m a year in the role – until Slutsky’s appointment instigated a timely upturn.
His team won the last four games in qualification. Yet, if that flurry of form pepped optimism, the injuries and displays in recent friendlies have provided a grim reality check. Slutsky has Euro 2016’s second-oldest squad, with only one player under 25, and the side have failed to make a positive impact in recent tournaments. Russia were absent from the 2010 World Cup and did not emerge from the group either at Euro 2012 or in Brazil two years ago; they have only one win at a major finals since reaching the last four of Euro 2008.
The 45-year-old is combining the role with his duties as CSKA Moscow coach, and effectively earning only expenses plus bonuses in the Russia job before a decision is made on his future after the finals. There remains the very real fear Slutsky may consider the task of overseeing such an ageing squad too daunting post-France. The first-choice centre-halves, Sergey Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski, have a combined age of 69 and will be wary of the pace offered by England’s forwards at the Stade Vélodrome. “They are not young, but they have a lot of experience,” countered the midfielder Oleg Ivanov. “They are very experienced, there is a lot of stability. We have more pluses than minuses in defence.”
The Terek Grozny player could deputise for Denisov in the middle, though there is also the option to use Schalke’s Roman Neustadter in that role for all that he received his Russian citizenship only last week. The 28-year-old’s parents left the Soviet Union for Germany when he was a child, and he has two caps in friendlies for the reigning world champions, with his paperwork fast-tracked by the Kremlin. However, the rather makeshift nature of Slutsky’s options was summed up by the former CSKA Moscow manager Valery Gazzaev in the wake of the two winless recent friendlies. “The games were very unsatisfactory,” he said. “It does not look like these players can play together.”
At least Mamaev offered more bullish rhetoric when asked about the opponents who will confront Russia in Marseille. “The whole England team are really strong,” he said. “They are undoubtedly world-class players and one of the strongest teams in Europe. But it’s not about individual players. We have a really strong attack. All the players are at their best at the moment and, therefore, ready to fight against any opponent. The first game will be very intense but everything is going fine.”
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