Russia will be hoping it is a case of age before beauty when they bid to make an impact at Euro 2020.
With two of their three group games in St Petersburg, Stanislav Cherchesov’s vastly experienced squad will attempt to recreate their successful 2018 World Cup campaign.
Russia reached the quarter-finals of that tournament on home soil three years ago but can their big game know-how make up for a perceived lack of quality this time around?
There is no doubting Russia’s pedigree on the European Championship stage.
They won the inaugural edition as the USSR back in 1960 and reached the final in two of the following three tournaments.
Another final defeat to West Germany followed in 1988 but things have not been quite as successful since the break-up of the Soviet Union — as an independent nation they have gone out in the group stage four times and did not even qualify for Euro 2000.
But a fine showing in Austria and Switzerland back in 2008 provided a reminder of Russia’s potential as a football powerhouse.
Inspired by Andriy Arshavin’s goals, they reached the semi-finals under tournament specialist Guus Hiddink before succumbing to a 3-0 defeat against eventual champions Spain.
How they qualified
Qualifying from Group I proved to be a relative walk in the park for Russia, who finished nine points above third-placed Scotland to secure a spot at the Euros.
Although they lost convincingly to unbeaten table-toppers Belgium on two occasions (3-1 and 4-1), the Russians won every other match — scoring an average of 3.3 goals a game and only conceding eight times across all 10 fixtures.
Highlights of the campaign included a 9-0 drubbing of San Marino and a 5-0 demolition of Cyprus.
With all those goals flying in, it is no surprise that Artem Dzyuba (nine) finished as the group's top scorer.
Cherchesov has gone with a 3-5-2 formation in both of Russia’s last two World Cup qualifying matches but it has not yielded great success.
A 2-1 defeat to Slovakia at the end of March is likely to see the veteran coach revert back to 4-2-3-1 for the Euros, with Dzyuba operating as the focal point of the attack.
Valencia’s Denis Cheryshev will be hoping to repeat his four-goal haul at the 2018 World Cup from the left flank, while Monaco man Aleksandr Golovin will be tasked with supporting Dzyuba from midfield.
Functionality over flair is the name of the game in defence, with Cherchesov likely to name an entirely domestic-based back four that could include 103-cap 37-year-old Yuri Zhirkov.
Fellow veterans Andrei Semyonov and Mario Fernandes should compensate for the inexperience of goalkeeper Anton Shunin — he only has 11 international caps despite being 34.
Predicted line-up: Shunin; Fernandes, Semenov, Dzhikiya, Zhirkov; Miranchuk, Ozdoyev; Kuzyaev, Golovin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba.
Star man: Artem Dzyuba
Zenit Saint Petersburg striker Dzyuba is a talismanic figure for both club and country — and will be Russia’s primary goal threat at Euro 2020.
The 6ft 6in colossus is the archetypal targetman. He offers a significant threat from set-pieces, wins the ball high up the pitch to bring his team-mates into play and finishes chances inside the box.
Now 32, he is showing few signs of slowing down and finished top scorer in the Russian Premier League in 2020-21 with 20 goals.
Add that to the 15 international goals he has scored since the 2018 World Cup — taking his total to 29 in 51 caps — and it is clear to see why defences should fear the former Spartak Moscow frontman.
Up-and-comer: Aleksandr Sobolev
Aleksandr Sobolev is waiting in the wings as Dzyuba’s understudy and will be looking to seize his chance from the bench when Russia take on Belgium, Denmark and Finland in Group B.
Another significant aerial threat at 6ft 5in, the 24-year-old already has two goals in five international appearances.
Fourteen league strikes saw the Spartak Moscow forward called up to Cherchesov’s squad — now he will be aiming to boost his stock further at the tournament.
The boss: Stanislav Cherchesov
Cherchesov’s league and cup double-winning season with Legia Warsaw prompted Russia to appoint the 57-year-old back in 2016 and it has proved to be a smart choice so far.
The former goalkeeper was responsible for their World Cup success three years ago, a comfortable Euro 2020 qualifying campaign and a respectable showing in the 2018-19 Nations League.
But the wheels have started to come off for Russia at the worst possible time — they have now won just two of their last 10 internationals.
March’s defeat to Slovakia did little to stop the alarm bells ringing but Cherchesov will be banking on his team turning it on for the big occasion.
All information correct as of midday, June 2, 2021