Russia will go top of Group B, if only for a few hours, if they beat Armenia in St Petersburg on Saturday but midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov is warning that could prove easier said than done.
Dick Advocaat's men earned a goalless draw in Armenia in their last UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier in March – a match where they had 13 corners to their hosts' one but failed to find the breakthrough. That result left them level with leaders Slovakia and third-placed Republic of Ireland and still only two points ahead of Armenia. Bilyaletdinov saw enough from the sidelines in Yerevan, prior to his last-minute introduction as a substitute to know another awkward evening might await.
Armenia are a very mobile and well-organised team, they move fast from defence to attack and their counter-attacks are always dangerous," the Everton FC player told UEFA.com. "They're a technically-gifted team and not easy opponents. But we're playing at home, and we need three points."
This is only Russia's second home qualifier after taking ten points from a possible 12 from four away games in Group B. Their first could not have gone worse – a 1-0 home loss to Slovakia last September – and it is perhaps the memory of that, as much as a frustrating evening in Armenia, that led Bilyaletdinov to add that Advocaat's team "might have had more points" than they have already mustered.
With Slovakia and the Irish both in action later on Saturday evening, Russia would take a three-point lead in the section, however briefly, with victory but they will have to do it without FC Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder Roman Shirokov, while coach Advocaat also has doubts over Zenit striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who has knee problems.
His Armenia counterpart, Vardan Minasyan, has his own concerns over goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky – absent from his club FC Khimki's last two league games – and striker Yura Movsisyan, who has been restricted to substitute appearances at FC Krasnodar. Yet otherwise he says "team morale is high", and with good reason.
Able to go top themselves on Saturday, Armenia have collected two wins already from five matches – as many as they managed in 12 UEFA EURO 2008 qualifiers. According to captain Sargis Hovsepyan, they are benefitting from their greater experience on the international stage.
The 38-year-old should know, having been part of the Armenia side beaten home and away by Russia in UEFA EURO 2000 qualifying. His country's most-capped player with 119 appearances he even sees their chances of getting a result in Russia as "even".
"Twelve years ago our opponents were much more experienced than we were," said Hovsepyan, who had spells in Russia with Zenit and FC Torpedo-Metallurg. "Now we are more experienced. Probably, the level of Russian players is higher but we will do everything to get a win." Bilyaletdinov's caution sounds well-placed.
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