Why Russia’s identity crisis could make them England’s ideal opponent | Barney Ronay

With such great resources and so many players, it is not too unfair to say that Russia are arguably the greatest underachievers in world football

The former Chelsea midfielder Yuri Zhirkov won’t play in England and Russia’s opening group match in Marseille. Injury has kept Zhirkov out of the squad, which is a blow as he might have been the only member of Igor Slutsky’s starting XI to have actually played club football outside the motherland (NB Russia is always a woman, just as England is always a non-indigenous semi-mythical creature: unicorn, griffin, brave roaring lion).

It is fair to say Zhirkov’s time at Chelsea wasn’t a model of integration. For the first few months he could often be seen hanging around a west London branch of Dolce & Gabbana after discovering one of the serving staff spoke Russian. When Zhirkov finally went home two years later he was so grateful he presented André Villas-Boas – with whom he’d barely worked, but who had, crucially, agreed to sell him - with a commemorative bottle of high-grade vodka.

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