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Preview: Cyprus vs. Russia - prediction, team news, lineups
03/09/2021 11:24:13

Russia continue their quest for a place at Qatar 2022 on Saturday (5:00PM, 4 Sept), as they travel to meet a Cyprus side still reeling from a humbling midweek defeat.

The pair convene in Nicosia, with the visitors three points clear of their Mediterranean counterparts after the first four games, and tied at the top of a congested Group H table.

Match preview

Russia resumed qualification for next year's World Cup in midweek, as they took on group leaders Croatia at the formidable Luzhniki Stadium.

Despite conceding the majority of possession and more shots on their goal, the 2018 hosts were able to hang on for a goalless draw in Moscow, in their first competitive match under new management.

With only the group winner progressing automatically to next year's finals, Russia will be intent on staying ahead of rivals Slovenia and Slovakia in the race for a top-two place, so victory in Cyprus is virtually essential.

After two wins to start - against Malta and Slovenia - a disappointing 2-1 loss in Slovakia left them trailing Croatia in the standings, so achieving automatic qualification will already be a tall task.

Effectively eliminated from the Euros by Denmark - who produced a stirring performance to win 4-1 in their final group game - that early exit led to the termination of manager Stanislav Cherchesov's contract, with Rostov boss and former national team star Valeri Karpin being brought in to oversee matters for the duration of this qualification campaign.

Prior to taking charge of Rostov, Karpin served as Spartak Moscow's manager, leading the club to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2011. The former Celta Vigo midfielder also managed Mallorca during the 2014-2015 season, but his current task is clear - leading his nation back to the finals after hosting the event three years ago.

Having represented Russia at the 1994 and 2002 World Cups as a player, Karpin will be aware that to repeat that achievement as a coach, victory on Saturday is a must.

Coming into the fourth round of World Cup qualifiers, Cyprus were seeking to build on a commendable tally of four points earned during the spring.

Having started with a goalless draw against Slovakia, Nikos Kostenoglou's men then pushed 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia hard in a 1-0 defeat, before posting their first victory of the process with a 1-0 home win over Slovenia.

Beaten by Euro 2020 participants Hungary and Ukraine in friendlies before the summer's main event in June, the islanders travelled to Ta'Qali this week with the aim of getting back on track and climbing the tightly-packed Group H table.

However, Kostenoglou and company left empty-handed and with their tails between their legs, as they were handed a 3-0 thumping by dominant Malta, who bossed the ball throughout. Their hosts made the most of their supremacy, with the all three goals coming in 11 minutes either side of half-time - not long after Constantinos Soteriou was sent off.

Cyprus have certainly struggled for goals of late, but such a shocking reverse to one of Europe's least heralded football teams will cause concern ahead of the weekend, when they meet a nation which beat them home and away in qualifying for the Euros.

Team News

Former captain Artom Dzyuba was omitted for these qualifiers, as Valeri Karpin seeks a fresh start under his reign, so Atalanta's Aleksey Miranchuk joined 18-year-old Arsen Zakharyan and Krasnodar winger Aleksei Ionov in a front three against Croatia, and they are likely to be retained on Saturday.

Karpin - who is expected to persist with a 4-3-3 in Nicosia - has handed a debut call-up to 19-year-old Konstantin Tyukavin, so he may be an option in the second half.

Meanwhile, Denis Cheryshev and Fedor Smolov are the other attacking alternatives that could feature amid a spell of three games in a week.

Pieros Sotiriou has often been selected as the central striker for Cyprus, but the Ludogorets forward's lack of form in national colours has led to him being rotated with Marios Elia on occasions, while Demetris Christofi started on Wednesday to little effect. Therefore, it remains to be seen who will start up front for the hosts.

Centre-back Constantinos Soteriou must serve a suspension after his first-half dismissal last time out, so Omonia defender Nikolas Panagiotou is poised to deputise as part of a five-man rearguard.

Cyprus possible starting lineup:

Michael; Antoniou, Kousoulos, Panagiotou, Laifis, Ioannou; Pittas, Artymatas, Kastanos, Papoulis; Sotiriou

Russia possible starting lineup:

Guilherme; Fernandes, Diveev, Dzhikiya, Karavaev; Barinov, Zobnin, Golovin; Ionov, Miranchuk, Zakharyan

We say: Cyprus 0-1 Russia

Cyprus tend to fare better on home soil - remaining unbeaten against Slovakia and Slovenia in Nicosia earlier in the process - but are set to be edged out by a capable Russia side on Saturday evening.

The visitors can push Croatia all the way for top spot in the group, and their greater top-level experience will see them to three points in the Mediterranean.

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