“So where is Russia’s new generation?” some are crying.
They are on their way, slowly, it’s just at this tournament you will have to make do with quite a few familiar names. Perhaps the country is preparing to unleash the new crop in time for the 2018 World Cup, which they will be hosting.
Barring a brilliant run to the Euro 2008 semi-finals, when the wider world became familiar with the precocious talents of winger Andrey Arshavin and forward Roman Pavlyuchenko, Russia fans have been suffered from malnourishment when it comes to success on the international stage.
To understand the present, you must now about the recent past - the USSR days. The iconic shirts, the mullets, the rasping drives of Vasyl Rats and Igor Belanov, tough work ethic, four appearances in Euro finals…
However, many of these players were not of Russian origin, hence after the break up of the Soviet Union on Boxing Day of 1991, the new nation had to start a search of Pop Idol proportions.
The creation of the Russian Football Premier League in 2001 has helped the process. The recruitment of African and Brazilian talent over the years has benefitted the league, home players and clubs such as the cash-rich Zenit St Petersburg and CSKA Moscow, who have both fared well in Europe club competitions in recent years.
Russia are incidentally managed by CSKA boss Leonid Slutsky, a former keeper who is only 45 - although he probably feels a lot older coping with two such high-pressure jobs.
He took over the national team from the well-paid Italian Fabio Capello in 2015 and subsequently helped the side win all of their qualifiers. Incidentally, his contract comes to an end at the end this tournament.
In a May interview with Russia Beyond the Headlines, Slutsky was asked whether having no “superstar” players in his team was an advantage or disadvantage.
“Probably a disadvantage,” he responded.
But that should be regarded as a blunt assessment rather than pessimism.
Nine of the 23 squad players are aged 30 and over, but with age comes, of course, experience.
Igor Akinfeev has kept more clean-sheets than any Russia keeper, and they have the effervescent box-to-box midfielder and captain Roman Shirokov.
They do have one exciting young buck in the squad - CSKA’s Alexander Golovin.
The lively 5ft 11in 20-year-old is still raw but helped his club to the league title, and also scored in his first two internationals.
Then in attack they have Fedor Smolov. The Krasnodar 26-year-old has won 13 caps and scored five goals. He is a predator in and around the 18-yard area and also a bit of a jack in the box - check out his overhead kick against Ufa this season.
The bookmakers fancy Russia to qualify from a Group B containing England, Wales and Slovakia. And they will heavily rely on that squad experience and some good old fashioned USSR work ethic to get through to the latter stages.
First Published On : Jun 7, 2016 20:07 IST