Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at the Russia, the strong European team that finished ahead of favored Portugal in qualification. Russia have been drawn in Group H, which includes Belgium, Korea Republic, and Algeria, and they play their first match against Korea Republic on June 17th.
As mentioned above, the Russians did very well in qualification, their only loss coming to Portugal away from home. Their coach, Italian Fabio Capello, has had similar success in World Cup qualification, guiding the England team to an unbeaten record ahead of their participation in the previous World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Unfortunately, England and Capello disappointed in the tournament, finishing second in their group to the United States and then losing to Germany in the 2nd round, 4-2.
For the Russians, since qualifying the team scheduled some exhibition matches to be used as “tune-ups” prior to the start of the 2014 tournament. Typically, when planning tune-up matches, coaches try to find opponents that are similar in competition level and playing style to the opponents drawn in their group. When I worked as Fitness Coach for the Canadian National Women’s U17 team, ahead of the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Cup we played 3 exhibition matches. Our first 2 were played against local boys teams in the U15 age category (to simulate our fitter, stronger group opponents in Nigeria and Colombia) and our 3rd and final tune-up was played against the Chinese Women’s National Team just 1 week prior to the start of the tournament in Azerbaijan (to simulate the North Korean team who we might play if we got out of the group). For Capello and the Russian team, planning their tune-ups meant finding an organized, tactically strong and talented side (similar to Belgium); a fit, physically demanding opponent (similar to Korea Republic); and a side with a lot of individually skilled/technical players (similar to Algeria). Finding opponents as tune-ups to the World Cup can be even more challenging, considering that the choice is usually from teams who have not qualified. It seems as though the coach and team have chosen their pre-World Cup opponents wisely, as their final 3 tune-up matches were:
- vs. Slovakia May 27th (1-0 win)
- vs. Norway May 31 (1-1 draw)
- vs. Morocco June 6 (2-0 win)
In their quest to find opponents similar to their World Cup opponents, Capello and the Russians found Slovakia (a strong team to match their strongest opponent, Belgium); Norway (a fit and physical team to match Korea Republic); and Morocco (a north African team with some individual talent, to match Algeria). Russia’s opponent-selection for their tune-up matches also looks good from a results perspective, as they won 2 out of 3 games and allowed only 1 goal to boot. Has Russia prepared themselves enough to get out of Group H and possibly farther? We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 weeks’ time.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.