Euro 2016 Spotlight:Russia

Going into one tournament with an eye on another is, frankly, kind of rude. France has gone to a lot of effort here, and the least all their guests could do is pay the proper attention. Building for the future on somebody else's time is not the done thing.

That said, if Russia were slightly distracted going into Euro 2016, it would be entirely understandable. After all, it's their turn to play host in two years' time, and so this is the team's last chance to play some competitive football before the cycle of pre-World Cup friendlies and general fretting begins. In an ideal world, the team that will represent Russia in 2018 would already be on display at Euro 2016, at least in a rough shape, so that the next two years can be devoted to tweaking and polishing.

In the actual world, the plan's gone to pieces. The Russian FA appointed Fabio Capello in July 2012 and then, in January 2014, extended his contract to run through the 2018 World Cup. Then, last July, they sacked him. Russia had exited Brazil 2014 in the group stage, was in danger of missing out on France and Capello had gone eight months without pay. And while you're only reading this because his replacement (Leonid Slutsky) managed to turn results around and secure qualification, he is also the manager of CSKA Moscow, and his contract with Russia is limited to this tournament.

Then there's the squad, which is a curious thing. At the back, they are still reliant on 36-year-old Sergei Ignashevich, who will likely be partnered by one of the Berezutski bothers, both 32 — the hope will have to be that their experience and familiarity with one another compensates for the marked lack of pace. Alan Dzagoev is missing from the midfield, captain Roman Shirokov may not start after Slutsky dropped him at club level and newly Russian Roman Neustädter may be given the job of screening the defense. At least there's pace out wide, with Zenit's Oleg Shatov coming off a decent season.

Perhaps the most intriguing absence comes up front, where 33-year-old Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Russia's record post-Soviet goalscorer, has been omitted from the squad. His last competitive game for his country was also Capello's last in charge, a 1-0 loss to Austria, and a loan move to FC Zurich in the second half of the season apparently failed to impress Slutsky, who has picked him just once, for a friendly against Lithuania. He failed to score, and Artyom Dyzuba, who was the top scorer in qualifying with eight, will likely start up top.

Still, if the plan's fallen apart then at least Russia are playing well again. Slutsky won his first five games in charge, including the final four qualifiers. England, Wales and Slovakia would have fancied their chances against Capello's moribund Russia side; this new version makes a lot more sense and carries a lot more threat. Also, 20-year-old Aleksandr Golovin is the Next Big Thing.

In the end, while there's a lot to be said for long-term planning, nothing beats good performances. Russia probably won't win Euro 2016 but a decent showing — a win over England? progress to the quarterfinals? the Berezutskis not being blown into fine dust by a sprinting Gareth Bale? — will send the team into the two years of pre-World Cup preparation with a little momentum. Yes, the team will need a new manager to oversee preparations for the World Cup, not to mention a new defense to keep them in it. But if all goes well this summer, that can all be done in a good mood, and that's what matters, right?

Schedule & Results

Saturday, Jun. 11
Wednesday, Jun. 15
Monday, Jun. 20