Guus Hiddink and his players may have other things on their minds as Russia prepare for their friendly against the Netherlands this evening.
The first international date of 2007 will see Hiddink come up against his compatriots at the Amsterdam ArenA. Third in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying Group E, few doubt that Russia will benefit from a run out against the Group D leaders, but the timing - for both players and coach - could have been better. With the Russian season not kicking off until 10 March, most of Hiddink's players have only just started pre-season preparations, and with PFC CSKA Moskva and FC Spartak Moskva gearing up for UEFA Cup action next week, their players could be forgiven for distraction.
Nine players in Hiddink's squad have come from one of the two UEFA Cup contenders. Both clubs were in action at the recent First Channel Cup in Israel, but Hiddink and his coaching team were not present to check out their form. The coach has stuck to tried-and-tested players to face the Netherlands and Aleksandr Kerzhakov's move to Sevilla FC has not been enough to convince Hiddink of his value, though many were expecting the 24-year-old striker's inclusion following his move from FC Zenit St. Petersburg. "Kerzhakov had a poor end to last season," Hiddink said. "He almost didn't play for Zenit and had a poor match against Estonia. We have other strikers. We will let Kerzhakov win a place at Sevilla and then he can battle for a place in the national team."
Some have suggested Hiddink is preoccupied with his trial for alleged tax evasion, which began in the Netherlands at the end of January. The coach, who has denied any wrongdoing, has been accused of avoiding Dutch taxes by claiming he was living in Belgium. The verdict is expected on 27 February. Hiddink's Russia team have been doing their best to minimise his professional worries. Aside from CSKA central defender Sergei Ignashevich - suffering from mild concussion - all of his first-choice players are fit.
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