Russia can unlock the most dangerous weapon from their arsenal when playmaker Andrei Arshavin returns from suspension to face Sweden in their decisive Euro 2008 Group D match on Wednesday.
Russia need to win at the Tivoli-Neu stadium in Innsbruck to book a quarterfinal spot, while a draw would do for Sweden.
Arshavin, widely considered Russia’s top player, sat out their first two matches — a 4-1 defeat by Spain and a 1-0 win over Greece — and is expected to now take charge of the attack.
“Arshavin is a footballer who can make something out of nothing,” the daily Sport Express quoted coach Guus Hiddink as saying. “He can score from anywhere. It’s very useful for our team.”
Despite the praise, Hiddink has hinted that 27-year-old Arshavin may not get an automatic place in the lineup.
“I don’t know whether he (Arshavin) will play or not,” Russian media quoted the Dutchman as saying.
“The last match he took part in was a friendly against Lithuania (on June 4). Up until then he had not played much, therefore he may not be in good enough condition to play a whole 90 minutes. We will see.”
Assuming he does start, Arshavin would probably play slightly behind striker Roman Pavlyuchenko and Hiddink would have to drop a midfielder, possibly Diniyar Bilyaletdinov who looked tired against Greece and picked up a slight knock.
Hiddink added that Sweden were the definite favourites and he expected them to play to win.
“I do not think the mentality of the Swedes would allow them to play for a draw. They are open people, who like to win,” he said.
Sweden coach Lars Lagerback is likely to make just one change from the side beaten 2-1 by Spain with Niclas Alexandersson returning at fullback after recovering from a thigh strain in place of Fredrik Stoor.
Johan Elmander should start on the right side of midfield despite a niggling foot injury.
Lagerback has the option if things are not going his way to gamble early in the second half with the quicker and more direct Sebastian Larsson with Elmander moving to a more central position in place of Anders Svensson.
“We have plenty of options. Sebastian is certainly capable of playing in that position,” Lagerback said.
Sweden, whose team is dominated by 30-somethings, struggled in the latter part of both their games, so Lagerback will need to choose his substitutions carefully.
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of two of Sweden’s goals at the finals, is unlikely to last the whole 90 minutes yet again due to his ongoing knee complaint.
The Swedes have also been working hard on set pieces, which until now have been poorly executed.