Russia headed to World Cup with high hopes

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MOSCOW (AP) - Already with an eye on the 2018 World Cup it will host, Russia is headed to Brazil with the attitude that anything short of advancement from Group H will be a failure.

The Russians will be making only their third appearance at the World Cup since the breakup of the Soviet Union. They failed to get out the group stage in 1994 and 2002.

“Definitely, our first target is to make it out of the group,” Russia coach Fabio Capello said. “If we do not do it then the rest of our aims are of no interest.”

Capello is Russia’s third foreign coach after Dutchmen Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat. Hiddink led Russia to the semifinals of the European Championship in 2008, but then failed to qualify for the last World Cup. Advocaat then took over and led the team to Euro 2012, but the Russians went out in the first round.

Russia clearly was happy with Capello’s coaching during its qualifying run, rewarding the Italian with a contract that will keep him in charge through the next World Cup at home.

In Brazil, Russia will play in Group H against the 2002 semifinalist South Korea, Belgium and Algeria.

“I cannot estimate South Korea or Algeria right now,” Zenit St. Petersburg striker Alexander Kerzhakov said. “I know nothing about Algeria but nobody is going to underrate those teams. We are going to take them seriously.”

Kerzhakov, now 31, is the only player in the squad who has World Cup experience. He came on as a late substitute in Russia’s 3-2 loss to Belgium in 2002.

“It was 12 years ago and their (Belgium’s) team has changed completely,” Kerzhakov said. “They dominated their group in qualifying and crushed Croatia on the road. They are a very dangerous opponent.”

Russia has never won an international tournament as an independent state. The Soviet Union team featuring goalkeeping great Lev Yashin won the first European Championship in 1960, and reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup in England six years later.

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