Russia could go on top of Group B in the Euro 2012 qualifiers if they win at home against Macedonia and other results go their way.
Dick Advocaat’s side is one of three teams level at the summit with 13 points, and will be looking for the maximum return against their opponents, who have no chance of reaching next year’s finals.
The Russians look to qualify automatically for next year’s finals in Poland and Ukraine. Advocaat’s side faces the Republic of Ireland next Tuesday, but first up are Macedonia, who Russia managed to beat 1-0 in their last encounter in Skopje in October.
The Dutchman is sure things won’t be easy. Russia will be without first-choice keeper Igor Akinfeev, who’s going to have to spend a long time on the sidelines after injuring his knee ligaments.
Vyacheslav Malafeev will replace the CSKA No. 1, and he actually saved a penalty the last time he played against Macedonia nearly four years ago.
Advocaat will be forced to pair the Berezutsky brothers in the center of the defense, as Sergey Ignashevich is suspended. And the 63-year-old says the visitor’s striker, Goran Pandev, poses a particular threat.
Yet Advocaat’s main decision will be who partners with Andrey Arshavin in attack. Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak haven’t had much game time for their clubs recently, while Aleksandr Kerzhakov has already netted 13 goals for Zenit this season, including a hat trick in his last game. So he could well win a place in the starting lineup.