Late on Friday, Russia face Slovakia in a match which could go a long way to determining their hopes of qualifying automatically for next year’s Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine.
A point should be enough for Dick Advocaat’s side, with their final match against rock-bottom Andorra. But Andrey Arshavin et al will be up against a team which has nothing to lose.
Slovakia sit fourth in Group B, three points behind Russia, needing two wins in two remaining games in order to retain any chances of qualifying. While Russia lead the pack two points ahead of Ireland, and four points in two games would be just enough to do the job.
This advantage could make the difference in Zilina on Friday, believes Dick Advocaat.
“Everything depends on us, which is the most important thing now,” notes the specialist, who pledged to vacate his seat unless Russia qualify.
Besides top goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and current top goal-scorer in the Russian Premier League Aleksandr Kerzhakov – both missing due to injuries – the squad is perfectly fit. Until Thursday, Anzhi star Yury Zhirkov’s participation was in doubt, but the midfielder says he is not going to miss the key match.
“I’m going to play even if the pain isn’t completely gone. You are allowed to miss such games only if your leg is torn off. Coaches will decide whether I play or not, of course, but I’m ready to do it anyway,” he says.
Meanwhile, despite Slovakia have only theoretical chances of going to Poland and Ukraine next year after losing to Armenia 4-0 on the home pitch last month, their coach Vladimir Weiss is reasonably optimistic.
“Slovakia have never lost two games in a row. I hope that now everything will be in our favor. Yes, Russia is the favorite, but I think we can achieve the desired result,” he says.
There is not much time to wait and see. The game will kick off at 8:15pm CET (18:15 GMT). In the other face-offs, Andorra meet Ireland, while Armenia take on Macedonia.