Russia ready to return to action

<-- Igor Akinfeev

Russia are relishing their first game in four months as they prepare to face fellow UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifiers Romania in Bucharest tonight, a match coach Guus Hiddink is hoping to use to unearth some fresh talent for this summer's finals.

Key absentees
Hiddink's side have not played since booking their place in Austria and Switzerland with a 1-0 defeat of Andorra on 21 November, a win that secured second place in qualifying Group E thanks to Croatia's 3-2 victory in England the same night. The joy at reaching the finals was somewhat tempered by a red card – and subsequent two-match ban – for talismanic striker Andrei Arshavin, scorer of three goals in qualifying. The FC Zenit St. Petersburg forward has been left out of the squad while Aleksandr Kerzhakov has also been overlooked to give him more time to adapt following his move to FC Dinamo Moskva from Sevilla FC. Marat Izmailov, who had been suggested as a potential replacement for Arshavin, misses out for personal reasons while Konstantin Zyrianov has a thigh injury.

High-class opposition
With friendlies against Kazakhstan, Serbia and Lithuania remaining before UEFA EURO 2008™, at which Spain, Greece and Sweden will form the opposition in Group D, Hiddink is expecting a tough test at the Steaua Stadium, saying: "I've watched a few Romania games, including their win against the Netherlands in October and this is a team of high class. They don't have players of the calibre of Gheorghe Hagi anymore, but they have a lot of decent players." The Russia coach, who signed a contract until 2010 on Monday, is expected to field as close to his first-choice lineup as possible in Bucharest with Igor Akinfeev set to return in goal after a year on the sidelines with a knee injury behind the usual defence of Vasili and Aleksei Berezutski – the latter will captain the side for the first time – Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksandr Anykov. Igor Semshov, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Yuri Zhirkov and Vladimir Bystrov are likely to start in midfield, but up front is more of a dilemma for the coach in the absence of Arshavin and Kerzhakov.

Striking options
None of the four strikers in the squad – Roman Adamov, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Dmitri Sychev – have found the net in the first two rounds of matches in the new Russian Premier-Liga season but Hiddink is adamant there is still plenty of time to impress him. "I keep my EURO squad in mind and have a fair idea of how we need to play, but that doesn't mean I am decided already," he said. "The players have enough time to persuade the coaches to change their minds." FC Moskva forward Adamov and Roman Shirokov, who has been successfully converted from a midfielder to a centre-back by Zenit coach Dick Advocaat this winter, are expected to win their first caps as substitutes.