THERE'S no doubt Russia should expect to at least reach the last 16 and the odds suggest it'll be between them and Belgium for the top spot in Group H.


Outright odds: 80/1

To win group: 9/4

To qualify: 1/2


Squad: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Lodygin (Zenit St Petersburg), Sergey Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan); Vasiliy Berezutskiy, Sergey Ignashevich, Georgiy Schennikov (all CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat, Alexey Kozlov (both Dynamo Moscow), Andrey Eschenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Terek Grozny); Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Roman Shirokov (Krasnodar), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Viktor Faizulin, Oleg Shatov (both Zenit St Petersburg); Yury Zhirkov, Alexey Ionov, Alexander Kokorin (all Dynamo Moscow), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Maxim Kanunnikov (Amkar Perm), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow).

Manager: Fabio Capello

World Cup record: Russia have only managed to qualify for two previous World Cups in 1994 and 2002 and on both occasions they failed to progress from the group stages. However, having reached the last three European Championships, they do at least head to Brazil with some major international tournament experience.

How they qualified: Russia's passage to Brazil was by no means straightforward but they just about managed to come out on top in what became effectively a two-horse race with Portugal in their group to qualify automatically. Fabio Capello's men finished just one point ahead of the Portuguese although had they not suffered a shock 1-0 defeat in Northern Ireland, they would have had more breathing space.

v Azerbaijan (away) 1-1 (HT 1-0) Shirokov 16

v Luxembourg (away) 4-0 (HT 3-0) Samedov 9, Faizulin 39, Glushakov 45+2, Kerzhakov 73

v Israel (home) 3-1 (HT 0-0) Berezutski 49, Kokorin 52, Glushakov 74

v Luxembourg (home) 4-1 (HT 2-0) Kokorin 1, 36, Kerzhakov 59, Samedov 90+3

v Northern Ireland (away) 0-1 (HT 0-1)

v Portugal (away) 0-1 (HT 0-1)

v Azerbaijan (home) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Shirokov 84

v Portugal (home) 1-0 (HT 1-0) Kerzhakov 6

v Israel (away) 4-0 (HT 2-0) Kerzhakov 7, 64, Kokorin 18, Faizulin 77

v Northern Ireland (home) 2-0 (HT 1-0) Faizulin 30, Shirokov 78

Goalscorers: Alexander Kerzhakov was Russia's top scorer in the qualifying phrase as he contributed five of their 20 goals including the crucial winning strike in the 1-0 victory over Portugal. Other names regularly on the scoresheet were fellow striker Aleksandr Kokorin (four) and midfield duo Viktor Faizulin (three) and Roman Shirokov (three).

Half-time/full-time: Generally speaking, Russia were pretty good at converting their six half-time leads into victories - managing to do so on five occasions. The only blemish to this record was the 1-1 draw in their final group game in Azerbaijan. On the flip side, the two games in which they trailed at the break - away at Portugal and Northern Ireland - they went on to lose to nil. Could this suggest they struggle to raise their game when the chips are down?

Clean sheets: Russia kept clean sheets in their first four games of qualification but only managed one more in the remaining six. That said, Fabio Capello's side never conceded more than one in any game so only shipped five in total. Three of the clean sheets were at home.

Win to nil: Of Russia's seven victories, five were achieved to nil including the 1-0 triumph over Portugal.

Cards: Counting reds at two, Russia's games produced 30 cards at three per game. Out of those, Fabio Capello's side received 11 yellows and no reds.

Other competitive internationals: None since the qualification period began. Prior to that, Russia failed to get out of the group stage at Euro 2012.

Build-up (most recent first): Russia have played five friendlies since their qualification for the World Cup, winning three and drawing the others with Serbia and Norway. One of the victories was against South Korea back in November, prior to the World Cup draw. Although the scorelines haven't exactly been eye-catching, the results do at least underline Russia are hard to beat.

v Norway (away) 1-1 (HT 1-0) Shatov 3

v Slovakia (home) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Kerzhakov 82

v Armenia (home) 2-0 (HT 2-0) Kokorin 21, Kombarov 43

v South Korea (neutral) 2-1 (HT 1-1) Smolov 12, Tarasov 59

v Serbia (home) 1-1 (HT 1-1) Samedov 30


Team verdict: There's no doubt Russia should expect to at least reach the last 16 and the odds suggest it'll be between them and Belgium for the top spot in Group H.

Let's not forget that although Russia haven't been to a World Cup since Belgium last did in 2002, a fair chunk of the current crop of players have experience of tournament football from Euro 2012 even though that did end in an early exit.

As mentioned in the Belgium section, I think this is a bigger factor than those who focus heavily on results and statistics would give it credit for and could well give the Russians a slight edge. They know what went wrong in Poland and Ukraine two years ago having started the tournament so brightly with four points from the first two games and will be eager to avoid a repeat occurrence.

In terms of top spot, much will obviously depend on their meeting with Belgium and judging by both sides' resilient defences, it could well be a low-scoring, cagey draw - a result which neither manager would be unhappy with. Therefore it could just come down to which team scores most in the other games and taking all my analysis of the group into account, I'd give the nod to Russia.