Slovenia v Russia, World Cup qualifying play-off second leg, November 18, 2009
The fear for Russian manager Guus Hiddink is that, having dominated the first-leg against Slovenia, his side only carry a narrow 2-1 win to Maribor for the second-leg.
A late away goal from Nejc Pecnik (5/1 to score) on Saturday has allowed Slovenian coach Matjaz Kek to still harbour realistic hopes of making it to the 2010 finals in South Africa. Two goals from Everton forward Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (7/2 to score) looked to have put Russia firmly in the driving seat for qualification in Moscow but substitute Pecnik’s late header reduced the deficit to a more manageable 2-1 as well as giving Slovenia a vital away goal.
In fact, Slovenia could easily have claimed a draw in the first-leg as centre-half Marko Suler almost equalised in added time but was thwarted by a superb save from Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
A draw though would have been far more than the Slovenians deserved. While Udinese keeper Samir Handanovic and left-back Miso Brecko had decent shifts in Moscow, all too often Grenoble centre-back Bostjan Cesar and his partner Marko Suler found themselves out-muscled and out-fought and were fortunate not to have conceded more than two goals. (Slovenia are 9/4 to keep a clean sheet.)
Slovenia’s midfield also failed to shine above average for the majority of the contest, with Robert Koren (20/1 to score first), Aleksander Radosavljevic and Valter Birsa all meandering their way through the first-leg. The hope is that the centre of the park could be shaken up with the inclusion of hugely-promising Inter Milan starlet Rene Krhin (25/1 to score last), as the gifted 19-year-old looks to add to his two international appearances so far.
Up front, Bundesliga based attackers Zlatko Dedic and Milivoje Novakovic will be hoping to receive more goalscoring opportunities than they received on Saturday. (16/5 for either Dedic or Novakovic to score first.)
Slovenia, though, have a shoddy home record in recent years. They have been able to dispatch the lessor lights of Northern Ireland, Poland and San Marino. Yet whenever a big nation rolls into town, whether it be the Czechs, the Bosnians, or Croatia and Denmark, the hosts have failed to claim the prized-scalp, and moreover succumb to defeat. Russia will be hoping that that trend continues on Wednesday.
The Russians, on paper, have an extremely exciting and capable team. With Igor Akinfeev rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after keepers in world football, they are blessed with the likes of Yuri Zhirkov (8/1 to score) and Aleksandr Anyukov in the full-back positions while Sergei Ignashevich and Vassili Berezoutski stand as man-mountains at the heart of the defence.
Offensively, the Russians have an array of talent, with the brilliant Alan Dzagoev (20/1 to score a brace) usually unable to even get a start. Andrei Arshavin (13/2 to score first) remains the main man, although the Arsenal schemer was noticeably below-par in the first-leg, while strikers Roman Pavlyuchenko (6/4 to score, Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Pavel Pogrebnyak all have goals about them.
Having lost twice (in Spain and German), drawn once, and won five in their last nine away matches, all signs point to Russia participating in South Africa next summer.
101predicts: Slovenia 0 – Russia 2 (17/2)
Full match odds here.