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Wednesday sees the Russian national soccer team take on England in London in a UEFA Euro 2008 qualifier that will be the first-ever encounter between the two sides
Wednesday sees the Russian national soccer team take on England in London in a UEFA Euro 2008 qualifier that will be the first-ever encounter between the two sides. With the first two teams from Group E set to qualify, England and Russia would seem to be locked in a deadly battle for second place. Croatia, barring some major upsets, appears to have already booked its spot at the 2008 tournament, to be held in Austria and Switzerland. With eight games played in the group and four remaining, Russia currently lead England by a point. A win at Wembley would see that stretch to four, with England due to visit Moscow on October 17. Russian soccer has experienced something of a boom of late, with massive investment by oil and gas companies such as LUKoil and Gazprom transforming the national championship, making it the fifth richest in Europe in terms of turnover. In the 11 games between England and the Soviet Union, which split up in 1991, England won five and Russia three. The most recent meeting was a friendly at Wembley in 1991, in which England triumphed 3-1. The Soviet Union's most famous victory over the English came at the European Championships in West Germany in 1988, when a rampant Soviet team ran out 3-1 winners against a pitiful English side. In a sign of the changes currently sweeping through Russia's national game, reflecting the resurgence of the economy as a whole, the Russian national side hired their first-ever foreign coach in 2006, signing a two-year contract worth 4 million euros ($5.5 million) with Dutchman Guus Hiddink. One of the game's most respected coaches, Hiddink took South Korea to the World Cup semi-finals in 2002, and to Australia to their first World Cup in 2006, where they were unlucky to lose in the second round to the eventual champions, Italy. Hiddink, whose Dutch team lost 4-1 at Wembley in 1996, is quietly confident about his team's chances on Wednesday night. "We should try to fight, to press opponents in every area of the pitch. But we're not looking just to defend - we will try to play an attacking game," he was quoted by the UEFA website as saying. England are plagued by injuries, with stars such as David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard set to miss the game. The Russians have their first-choice keeper, CSKA's Igor Akinfeyev, out though injury. Ivan Sayenko of the German side Nuremburg - one of the few Russian players with experience of playing abroad - is also likely to miss the match. The game comes at a time of increasing political tension between Britain and Russia, with an ongoing extradition row, and pressure on British oil companies from Russian regulators. During a round of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions in July, President Putin said "Britain forgets it is no longer a colonial power and that Russia was never its colony." Politics aside, the match promises to be a memorable one, with both England and Russia enjoying 3-0 home victories at the weekend, over Israel and Macedonia, respectively. Speaking about his side's performance, England coach Steve McClaren said: "I'm sure Russia will watch our video and not relish the prospect of coming to Wembley if we play like that. We've set a standard and have to do it again on Wednesday." Between six and seven thousand Russian fans are expected in London for the game, with many more watching in pubs across the capital. The match kicks off at 8 p.m. local time (11 p.m. Moscow time). A sell-out is expected.
Print Wednesday sees the Russian national soccer team take on England in London in a UEFA Euro 2008 qualifier that will be the first-ever encounter between the two sides Bookmark Wednesday sees the Russian national soccer team take on England in London in a UEFA Euro 2008 qualifier that will be the first-ever encounter between the two sides

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