Russia midfielder Dmitri Torbinski says tonight's potentially decisive Group B meeting with the Republic of Ireland will come down to who wants it more.
With three games remaining, just two points separate section leaders Russia from Ireland and Slovakia as the trio grapple for the automatic qualifying place for UEFA EURO 2012. Victory in Moscow this evening would set Dick Advocaat's side further along the road to Poland and Ukraine but Torbinski cautions against complacency: October's 3-2 win in the reverse fixture did not come easily.
"Russia managed to win back then but I do not agree with those who consider us favourites," said the FC Lokomotiv Moskva man. "I always assume the odds are even before the whistle is blown. Then everything depends on motivation, implementing your game plan and taking your chances. Ireland play British-style football, and Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and Aiden McGeady are a potent attack."
Russia will be keen to avoid the sucker punch, though the absence of injured goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and suspended midfielder Igor Denisov means their guard is down slightly. "They are serious losses, we will miss them," acknowledged Torbinski. "But we have candidates to replace them. We can also count on our fans' support – a packed stadium is always great and helps the players."
The partisan crowd may betray some uncertainty as they make their way to the Luzhniki Stadion, unsure which team will turn up. The Russia that struggled to break down the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the first half on Friday, or the Russia that outplayed their opponents after the interval, even if they were restricted to a 1-0 win?
"We wanted more," Torbinski, 27, told UEFA.com. "On the other hand, it could have turned out differently in the first half when Macedonia surprised us. They created a lot of space and played a passing game. We only started to breathe more easily after we scored." Had Torbinski not shown a hint of post-injury rustiness after his introduction on the hour he might have stretched Russia's advantage.
Advocaat's men may need to take every opportunity they get against an Ireland side determined to return to winning ways after Friday's 0-0 Dublin draw with Slovakia. "I see no reason why we cannot win in Russia – we have beaten strong opponents away from home before," striker Keane said. "Russia are favourites and it's going to be tough. But is there any such thing as an easy match?"
The visitors have personnel problems of their own, with John O'Shea, Kevin Kilbane and Shane Long injured, Sean St Ledger suspended and Shay Given doubtful. You suspect it is little comfort for Torbinski and Russia right now.
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