Russia's national soccer team gathered yesterday at the Marriot Hotel ahead of today's scheduled flight to Cyprus, where they will hold a training camp ahead of Saturday's Euro 2008 qualifier against Israel.
Russia coach Guus Hiddink chose 21 players who will likely participate in a total of five training sessions in Nicosia: one today, two tomorrow and another two on Thursday. However, as per the usual working procedure of the Dutch coach, there could be changes to the frequency of the practices, according to the recommendations from the medical staff. The Russia squad will arrive in Israel only on Friday, and hold its final practice ahead of the match the same day.
According to Russian sports commentators, Hiddink's biggest question regarding who will be in his starting lineup against Israel involves the goalkeeper.
Igor Akinfeev (CSKA) says he is ready, but Hiddink is not certain how much of an effect a six-month layoff due to a serious injury has affected him. Vladimir Gabulov (Kuban Krasnodar) has demonstrated skill and consistency against Macedonia and England, but has not helped his own club in the battle against relegation. Vyacheslav Malafeev won the Russian league championship with Zenit St. Petersburg, but was not consistent throughout the season.
Out front, Hiddink will have to decide between Spartak forward Roman Pavlyuchenko, Aleksandr Kerzhakov - who warms the bench at Sevilla most of the time, and Lokomotiv striker Dmitri Sychev.
Scouts from England, Italy and Spain are expected to arrive in Israel, in order to follow Akinfeev and Pavlyuchenko. The asking price for the forward is $21 million, and he appears to be on his way to Manchester City.
"It is going to be an especially difficult match against a strong and organized opponent," said Zenit midfielder Konstantin Zyrianov, one of the most outstanding players in Russia this past season, which ended over the weekend.
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