Euro 2012 – Hart and Lloris are the GK stars of Group D

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Group D is a group full of established and emerging goalkeeping talent. Here’s a look at the custodians involved in a very unpredictable group.

England

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Joe Hart is he number one and after a strong season and much improvement from the Manchester City keeper, it’s a straightforward pick. Over the last twelve months, he has gained the experience and judgement to compliment his obvious agility and reflexes. He’s now a more commanding figure in aerial battles and his once suspect concentration now looks pretty flawless. He’s the number one and without him England are substantially weaker.

If for any reason misfortune strikes, Robert Green will step in. He will forever be remembered for his howler against the USA at World Cup 2010, but he has bounced back well since that disappointment and subsequent tabloid character assassination. His reactions are top class, but his handling can be an issue. That said, if he needs to step in, he has the experience and ability to do it with minimum of fuss.

The selection of Jack Butland on the stand-by list was Roy Hodgson’s bolt from the blue. When John Ruddy broke a finger and had to withdraw from the squad, the untested 19 year old ws the focus of much attention. Owned by Birmingham, but on loan at League 2 Cheltenham for the last few months, it was a bold move by Hodgson. It had hints of Theo Walcott being brought along to World Cup 2006 ain’t to give him the experience of an international tournament. That’s fine, but if he is called into action, it could be a decision England may rue.

France

Hugo Lloris has quietly gone about becoming one of the best goalkeepers in the world over the last few seasons. Lyon have fallen off their Ligue 1 perch, but Lloris has continued to impress with his consistency and ability. Laurent Blanc handed him the captaincy and that speaks volumes about the 25 year old’s maturity and importance to the them. His good form was rubber stamped when he was this season voted Ligue 1’s Goalkeeper of the Year for a third time.

In reserve, France have the considerable talents of Steve Mandanda. The Marseille captain’s agility and reactions have always been evident, but his handling often let him down. In the last couple of seasons however, this has improved markedly and he now looks a far more reliable keeper. He’s get into several of the sides at Euro 2012 as a first choice, but will find it hard to leapfrog Lloris in the years ahead.

The third choice is Cedric Carrasso of Bordeaux. He’s the oldest of the three, but has only one cap to his name. That’s largely down to bad timing as his peak years have coincided with the rise of Lloris and Mandanda. He’s hugely agile and capable and won’t look out of his depth in the unlikely event he’s called into action.

Sweden
Despite not making the grade at Juventus or Manchester City, Andreas Isaksson has forged a good career for himself at PSV and become Sweden’s undisputed number 1. The 30 year old is closing in on his century of caps for the national side. At 6′ 6″, his height doesn’t compromise his agility. He’s an excellent shot-stopper and even though he’s not textbook perfect, he has the knack of getting something in the way of the ball. He may parry a little too often, but he’s a reliable first choice. For a keeper of his height however, his command of the aerial battle is below standard. He needs to take charge of what can be an uncertain Swedish defence.

Johan Wiland is the most senior keeper in terms of age, but he’s the junior in terms of international caps. The Copenhagen keeper has eight to his name and at 31, may find himself behind Isaksson for most of his career. Like Isaksson, he’s a little unorthodox, but he gets the job done. His reflexes are top class and he’s brave in one on one situations.

Par Hansson is the youngest of the three goalkeepers and the one least likely to see game time. At 25, he’s very highly rated in his homeland and he will get his chance in future. His reactions are great and he’s very quick – he really is an exciting prospect for the future. One thing he may need to work on is his aerial presence. He stays on his line most of the time and to step up to the next level, will need to become more assertive.

Ukraine
The co-host’s preparation has been hindered by a severe dwindling of their goalkeeping options. The vastly experienced Oleksandr Shovkovskiy has been the first choice for the better part of the last two decades, but he has been ruled out after having to have shoulder surgery. The usual back-up of Maksim Dikan has been ruled out due to serious injuries picked up in a league game for Spartak Moscow earlier this season and another option, Oleksandr Rybka is serving a ban for testing positive for a banned diuretics whilst playing for Shakhtar Donetsk.

It leaves Andriy Pyatov as the man likely to start their campaign against Sweden. He has established himself as a firm favourite at Shakhtar Donetsk, particularly impressing in their Europa League run of 2009. Athletic and sharp, he won’t stand out as a weakness, but clearly he’s not the man most Ukrainians would want in goal.

If something does happen to Pyatov, then there’s problems for Ukraine. Mainly because between them, his two back ups have three caps. Two of them belong to Oleksandr Horyainov of Metalist Kharkiv. The 36 year old has plenty of experience at club level and he’s more than capable of filling in, but an ideal scenario would see him spend the tournament bench-warming.

Maksym Koval has just one cap to his name, but at the age of 19, that’s less of a concern. He has been ear-marked as a future star for some time now and will no doubt form a large part of Ukraine’s footballing future. He has made some gaffes in his short career, but it’s to be expected and his agility ad reflexes stand out as being exceptional. It would be a big ask to step into such a high pressure environment at such a young age, but the experience will stand him in good stead for the years to come.


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Euro 2012 – a semi-final would be a great result for England

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Thoughts of England winning Euro 2012 should be secondary thanks to the team’s troubled lead-in. It should all be about the learning for brighter days ahead says Shaka Hislop

It’s strange to see England go into a tournament with such little expectation. The messy situation Roy Hodgson has inherited seems to have dampened the usual hype you normally see around the team. It’s no bad thing. Normally they’re doomed to disappoint a nation, but this time around a run to the semi-finals would surely count as progress.

It’s early days in the Hodgson era, but there are some good signs. In his two friendlies, England were a well organised and disciplined side. They didn’t dominate in the way some people would like, but they have some real strengths heading into the tournament.

With Welbeck, Young and Walcott, they’ve got real pace and are well set-up to play on the counter attack. Added to the mix is Ashley Cole, who is simply one of the best left-backs in the world, let alone Europe. They’ll be dangerous on the break.

England have been unlucky with injuries, especially in defence, but Roy will have whatever team he puts out there well-drilled. That counts for a lot in international football were the margins are generally very thin. With France playing well, it’s hard to see England claiming top spot and that means big trouble. With Spain likely to top Group C, it would make getting further than a quarter-final nearly impossible. If however, they started with a win over France and got the right results against Sweden and then Ukraine, topping the group could be huge. That would most likely mean playing Italy, Croatia or the Republic of Ireland – all of which are substantially more achievable challenges.

It’s something of a freebie for Hodgson. With all the turmoil surrounding England in the last few months, he’s done well to steady the ship. There was criticism of the way he handled the Rio Ferdinand and John Terry issue. I can see it from both sides. I totally sympathise with Rio, but I can see legitimate footballing reasons for his omission. In a squad like this, you don’t really need two centre backs over the age of 30 with a lack of pace. The leadership and experience of one will suffice and Hodgson clearly believes Terry is the better defender.

England will get out of their group, most likely as a runner-up. That puts them on course for Spain in the quarter-final and that’s where the story could end. It’s not crucial for Roy on this occasion, but he’ll be expected to deliver in future. Hopefully England can make progress deep into the tournament, but the more realistic aim is that everyone involved learns from the experience and they’re better placed for success in 2014.


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Euro 2012 – a look at the array of quality goalkeepers in Group C

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It may not be as utterly ruthless as the competition’s group of death, but Group C is another tricky one, with several permutations that would surprise, but not necessarily shock. It’s also similar in terms being packed with an abundance of goalkeeping talent. Here’s the run through:

Croatia
Whilst they’re littered with famous names further up the pitch, Croatia lack a goalkeeper of international renown.

There is no doubt however about Slaven Bilic’s first choice however and that honour goes to Stipe Pletikosa (33). The vastly experienced custodian will most likely reach the 100 cap mark in the next 12 months and he has been the pick since the 2006 World Cup. His reflexes, agility and speed are all strong points. Early on in his career, he was considered vulnerable under the high ball. He has improved this area of his game, but doesn’t command the aerial battles with the confidence you’d expect of a 6′ 4″ keeper.

Another issue could be his tendency to parry rather than catch. It’s not a fatal flaw – especially since he has the happy knack of directing his saves away from danger – but you’d rather a keeper who catches the ball and takes command when the option is available. His club career has largely been one of almost breaking into Europe’s elite, but falling short. He had a loan spell at Tottenham but didn’t feature in the league. He was close to a move to Celtic, but it fell through and now he’s playing for Rostov in the Russian Premier League.

All of Croatia will be praying for Pletikosa’s good health, but that’s more down to the inexperience behind him than a lack of ability. Danijel Subašić is the second choice and he’s a talented young goalkeeper. His strong suits are agility, reflexes and bravery in one on one situations. Other than minimal international experience, there’s little else that would overly concern you. Plus he takes a mean free kick, going very Rogerio Ceni for Monaco earlier this season. He won’t get dibs on one for the international team, but it’s nice trick to have in your locker.

Ivan Kelava is the ‘one for the future’ of the three. The 24-year-old has yet to make his senior international debut and despite being very talented and capable, many will be hoping he’s not called into duty over the next couple of weeks.

Ireland

Shay Given’s injury problems has dominated Ireland’s build-up to Euro 2012. At 36, age does seem to be catching up with him a bit, but equally I think these problems can be traced back to that season he spent on the bench behind Joe Hart. Later on in a career, a goalkeeper’s body gets used to taking a certain amongst of abuse. When that stops for a while, it’s hard to restart it and I think that explains the variety and frequency of Shay’s niggles. He’s still a quality keeper however and his lack of aerial presence is compensated for by the fact his defenders know they have to deal with vast majority of the crosses themselves. Some see it as a weakness, but having played with Richard Dunne for so long, I think it’s a strength and there have been relatively few mix-ups down through the years.

Keiren Westwood is the man who will step in should Given’s injuries flare up at the tournament. He’s agile and got great reflexes, they only issue is a lack of experience at the highest level. He’s slowly but surely building that up at Sunderland.

David Forde of Millwall is the third choice option. He’s been a regular in Trapattoni squads for the last twelve months and if called upon, shouldn’t have too many problems. He has been known to make the odd poor decision during this club career, but he’s far from a calamity keeper and will no doubt add to his haul of two caps in the future.

Italy
With the Italy camp in apparent crisis, one constant is the rock-solid presence of Gianluigi Buffon. He struggled with injury in the aftermath of the 2010 World Cup, but got a full season under his belt and was immense as Juventus claimed their first league title since 2003. You know what you’re going to get with Gigi. He offers leadership, calmness, agility and authority. There may be an occasional mistake, but he bounces back strongly every time and he truly is one of the all time greats of goalkeeping. With 114 caps to his name, the captain is a huge part of the team and if they’re to defy the gloomy predictions with an extended run in the tournament, he’ll need to be at his best.

Morgan De Sanctis is second in command, but has limited experience of international football. He has been in Buffon’s shadow for much of his career and at the age of 35 has just 5 caps to his name. He’s a good keeper however and if called upon will perform well. He has the tendency to do something ill-advised on occasion, but by and large he’s dependable and does the basics with authority.

Salvatore Sirigu is the eventual successor to Buffon. The 25 year old joined Paris Saint Germain last summer and became a firm favourite with the club’s vocal support. His ability and reactions are top quality and his air of calm authority does have a similarity to the great Buffon. He’s unlikely to see any game time at Euro 2012, but his time will come at future tournaments.

Spain

For the third tournament in a row, Spain go into it with the strongest goalkeeping division – possibly of all time. Rarely has there been such and abundance of riches to choose from. In Casillas, Reina and Valdes they have three goalkeepers who would walk into most international teams, but beyond that there are another two or three high quality keepers who are knocking on the door to get into the squad; David de Gea and Diego Lopez being the two most obvious candidates.

There’s not much more hyperbole you can heap on Iker Casillas. He is the best in the world. I’ve said it before, he’s not perfect, but he rarely makes mistakes and when he does, he almost instantly makes amends. His command and control of his penalty is a hugely under-rated weapon for Spain. He cleans up with such authority, it often slips by unnoticed, but in doing so, he stamps out potential danger with the minimum of fuss.

Pepe Reina wasn’t at his best for large parts of the season at Liverpool. What was happening in front of him didn’t help. Erratic defending and Jekyll and Hyde performances elsewhere on the team made life very difficult, but Reina contributed superbly. If called upon, Spain should have no fears. He very presence in the squad ensures Casillas can’t take anything for granted and that’s no doubt partially why San Iker has maintained such high standards for the national team.

Victor Valdes is a curious player. At times it looks like his ball skills wouldn’t look out of place in the Barcelona midfield, but then he does something poorly judged in the course of his goalkeeping duties to make you question him. He’s the perfect goalkeeper for the Barcelona system, operating as auxiliary sweeper and passing the ball around with accuracy. The national team role is different and that’s why he’s at the bottom of the pecking order. When it comes to the bread and butter stuff of goalkeeping, Valdes isn’t bad, just not as good as the two ahead of him. Still though, he’s not a bad third choice goalie to have in any squad.

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Euro 2012 – Group B goalkeeping preview

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Rarely has there been a stronger group assembled in international football. With all four members of Group B nestled inside FIFA’s top 10, it’s been labeled the ‘group of death’. It doesn’t lack for goalkeeping talent either and here’s a rundown of the twelve vying for game time at Euro 2012.

Denmark

The Danes go into the tournament with a trio of goalkeepers lacking experience at international level. Between them Stephan Andersen, Kasper Schmiechel and Anders Lindegaard have a grand total of 15 caps.

Anderson (30) is likely to get the nod by virtue of his slight advantage in experience and strong showing for Evian in Ligue 1. He’s a very technically correct goalkeeper with good reflexes and tidy hands. He’s arguably the least globally famous of the Danes goalkeeping ranks, but he’s a reliable presence.

Lindegaard (28) had a mixed bag of a season for Manchester United. At one point he looked unbeatable and, in contrast to the struggles of David De Gea, the keeper more able to handle the pressure of playing at Old Trafford. It didn’t take long for more suspect performances to come however and combined with the young Spaniard finding his feet, he was relegated to the bench. He wasn’t helped by injury towards the end of the season and his inactivity has counted against him.

It’s hard to disassociate Schmeichel junior with the standards set by his Dad. Examined in his own right, Kasper is a good pro, capable of pulling off some saves, but also a little too error-prone so far in his career. He has played for Denmark’s underage teams, but has yet to earn his first senior cap. If all goes to plan for Morten Olsen and his team, that won’t change at this tournament.

Germany
Manuel Neuer went to World Cup 2010 as the replacement for the tragic Robert Enke. He was good, but a little raw and it showed. Two years on, he’s got two good seasons under his belt and he looks genuinely world-class. His effort to keep out Drogba’s header in the Champions League final wasn’t his finest hour, but it was one possible mistake in a season of excellent performances.

Behind him in the order is the vastly experienced Tim Wiese. Ideally Joachim Loew would prefer not to need him, but if called upon, the 30-year-old newly signed Hoffenheim keeper will be a reliable deputy. He made a few high-profile blunders a few seasons back, but he bounced back to become a more solid keeper. Ever the man for the blunt quote, former Arsenal and Germany keeper Jens Lehmann is less convinced telling the media “If Neuer gets injured, we have no chance.”

The ‘one for the future’ in the goalkeeping division is Ron-Robert Zieler. The former Manchester United youth team player has excelled since returning to his homeland. He has just one senior international cap to his name, but has played for Germany all the way up the age groups, including the successful Under 19 European Championships campaign of 2008.

Netherlands

Spain undoubtedly have the strongest goalkeeping division at the Euros, but the Netherlands are a close second. Maarten Stekelenburg was excellent in the Oranje’s run to the final of the 2010 World Cup and it’s his experience that makes him the preferred number 1 over his two immensely talented rivals.

Michel Vorm goes into the tournament on the back of an excellent season with Swansea. His reputation grew with every Premier League performance. He’s arguably a more agile and athletic keeper than Stekelenburg, but may suffer for being a less authoritative figure under the high ball.

Tim Krul was another Dutchman to have an excellent Premier League season. He has some lightening quick reflexes (see his string of point blank saves for Newcastle this season) and more command of his penalty area than Vorm, so it looks like a lack of experience is the main issue undermining his claims.

Portugal
The official line coming from the Portuguese camp is that the goalkeeping role is up for grabs with each player having an opportunity to impress. That stance was backed up with the rotation used in the friendlies coming in to the tournament.

Rui Patricio of Sporting Lisbon is most likely to get the nod however. He was the choice for the latter stages of the qualifying campaign and is arguably the most naturally talented of the three. He lacks the experience at club of his two older compatriots, but his natural athleticism and reflexes make up for it. His handling can be a little untidy at times, but as that’s some his rivals also sometimes struggle with, it’s not a major disadvantage. Rumours have done the rounds about a possible move the Manchester United and although that makes little sense, it does suggest how highly he is rated.

Eduardo began the road to Poland and Ukraine as the first choice, but lost his place after slipping down the pecking order at Benfica. Something of a penalty saving specialist, he’s an agile keeper, but one that doesn’t exert the greatest command of his penalty area. To his credit, he played all of Portugal’s matches at World Cup 2010, conceding just one goal in four games and keeping three clean sheets.

Beto is almost certainly rated as the third choice of the three. He hasn’t been able to leapfrog Helton at Porto and spent last season on loan in Romania, playing for CFR Cluj. There’s no doubting his supreme agility or tenacity, but you get the feeling he tends to ham it up for the cameras, which isn’t ideal. At 6 foot tall, he lacks height and as a result he can be poor under the high ball.


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Euro 2012 – England are improving but the Netherlands will win it

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Spain are in great shape ahead of defending their European Championship title. But Shaka says they might find the chasing pack are a little closer this time around.

Greece

Greece winning Euro 2004

There’s something really enjoyable about the European Championships. I know it lacks Brazil, Argentina and some of the other global heavyweights, but it’s a great tournament. The unpredictability makes it fantastic. We saw Greece and Denmark upset the big boys in the last couple of decades, but it was happening long before that with Czechoslovakia claiming glory in 1976.

There won’t be a shock of the same magnitude this time around, but Poland and Ukraine could go far. Firstly you hope that everything goes right for their hosting the event, but then comes the football and both teams are capable of getting at least a quarter-final. I’ve got a sneaky feeling Poland may even manage more than that.

Spain are the defending champions, looking to become the first nation to win three major international tournaments in a row. They’ve once and for all buried the chokers tag and they’ve looked good in the two years since their World Cup triumph. I don’t think they’ll win it though.

They’re not suddenly a bad team, but the gap between them and the rest has shrunk. Germany have improved since 2010 and the Netherlands look a stronger team two years on.

The Dutch are going to be chomping at the bit. Since the Total Football era, they’ve prided themselves on style. That went out the window at the last World Cup and they will be desperate to show they don’t need to adopt the same tactics again to prevail. With an in-form and fully fit Robin va Persie, they’ve got a great chance. Having Huntelaar, a prolific goalscorer at international level, won’t hurt either. They’ll need to improve defensively, but they can and they’ll be a major candidate.

Italy’s preparation has been poor, but I wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. Serie A is still producing good players and led by Gigi Buffon, they could surprise a few people who are maybe writing their obituary. They miss a tackler in midfield though. Andrea Pirlo is a wonderful playmaker, but he neglects his defensive duties. You can’t do that at a tournament like this.

Laurent Blanc deserves immense credit for what he’s done with France. Thinking back to the absolute anarchy in South Africa and afterwards, it looked like a scene UN peacekeepers would struggle to contain. The fallout from the anti-Domenech revolt has been handled brilliantly by Blanc. He’s got the players onside, they’re playing well and they’ve got a fantastic chance. The fitness of Yann M’Vila is importance. If he’s forced to sit it out, they’ll miss his tackling.

Roy Hodgson has made a good start to the England job. It’s only been two friendlies, but they’re well organised and set up to strike on the counter attack. My fear is the draw. If they don’t win the group, they will most likely meet Spain and despite the win last November, they won’t do it again.

It’s always been a team game and that’s why Portugal won’t win it. We all know what Cristiano Ronaldo can do, but winning a championship like this takes more. He doesn’t have the players around him. Portugal have several top quality players, but not enough to cover for the overall shortcomings in the squad. They’re not good enough defensively and in a tough group, they could get found out.

All things considered, it’s the Netherlands at 13/2 for me. With the form Robin van Persie is in, they can go all the way.

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Euro 2012 – Much expected of Szczesny and Cech in Group A


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The demands of international goalkeeping differ to the club game, but essentially having the best possible man for the job is the aim of the game. Here’s a look at the goalkeeping options open to the teams in Group A.

Czech Republic

This version of the Czech Republic isn’t littered with world-class names the way previous teams were, but in goals they have a true superstar. Petr Cech has had his critics over the last couple of seasons but this year he came roaring back to top form. His stunning save in the FA Cup final helped his team to the first trophy of the year and a string of high quality performances in the Champions League were the difference between eventual glory and an early exit.

He’ll be crucial if the Czechs are to give their customary good showing. There are very few players on the planet who could adequately replace Cech and there will be concern if either of the back-ups, Jaroslav Drobny of Hamburg or Jan Lastuvka of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk see much playing time.

Greece
For a team so infamously committed to the defensive side of the game, Greece lack a goalkeeper of worldwide renown. Between the three they take to Euro 2012, they have little more than 50 caps worth of experience. 30 of those belong to Kostas Chalkias and he’s the likely first choice for Fernando Santos. The 38-year-old is relatively advanced in age, but it’s only in recent years that he has claimed the national team berth. His at times erratic decision-making may have something to do with that. At 6′ 6″ he’s very agile, but is prone to a moment of madness and giving away a gilt-edged chance.

He is playing regularly for PAOK and that makes him the preference over Alexandros Tzorvas. He’s spent the majority of his first season with Palermo on the bench. A shaky start saw him lose his status as first choice and ultimately his chance at getting the nod for the international side.

Michalis Sifakis is the youngest of the three heading to Euro 2012. It’s a cliché to say he’s a shot-stopper, but certainly his speed and athleticism are sometimes compromised by some rushes of blood to the head. He is capable of making some breath-taking saves however, so if he was needed, he’s more than able to cope.

Poland

The hosts’ goalkeeping division took a hit with the news Lukasz Fabianski will miss the tournament with injury. It’s an inconvenience, but Wojciech Szczesny is the man who they’ll rely upon. The scenario he faces for the national side has parallels with the situation he experiences at Arsenal. Robert Lewandowski is expected to be the goalscoring threat, but if Szczesny doesn’t perform to his world-class best, the striker’s efforts may not matter. The Poles lack quality in-depth and any progress into the latter stages of the tournament will surely require heroics from Szczesny. As he showed for the Gunners countless times this season, he’s more than capable of saving the day.

Behind him in the pecking order is the equally youthful Grzegorz Sandomierski. The 22-year-old is a highly rated understudy who was signed by Genk as the long-term replacement for Thibaut Courtois. He was soon loaned back to Jagiellonia Bialystok to build upon his experience. The oldest goalkeeper of the trio is the still spritely Prezemyslaw Tyton. At 25, he’s highly rated at his club PSV Eindhoven and may still challenge Szczesny for the starting role in the years to come.

Russia
Igor Akinfeev was flavour of the goalkeeping month after his showing at Euro 2008. The CSKA clubman was rumoured to be a target for some of Europe’s top clubs, most concretely perhaps, Manchester United who were aware of time ticking down on Edwin van der Sar’s playing days. He never really kicked on from that tournament and that tells us he possibly hasn’t developed at the speed anticipated by some. At 26 years of age, he still has plenty of time to make the next step.

His progress has been hampered more recently by injury trouble. He missed a large part of last season due to injury. Even a few days before this tournament begins, reports have emerged about fluid on his knee and the concern about his fitness is merited.

Vyacheslav Malafeev enjoyed a run as starter towards the end of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign as a result of Akineev’s injury troubles. He’s also seen plenty of action in the pre-tournament friendlies. Dick Advocaat is clearly aware of the need to keep the Zenit St. Petersburg stalwart sharp and if he is called upon, he should provide good cover for Akinfeev.

Anton Shunin represents the younger generation and he may yet play a more important role than is ideal for a player with two international caps. The Dynamo Moscow stopper’s reflexes and agility will hold up to the international game, but his decision-making and inexperience will be a concern if he needs to step in over the next few weeks.

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