• Warm-up games only partially hinted at how Russia will perform 
  • Opening Match will reveal Stanislav Cherchesov’s thinking
  • Here are the questions surrounding the hosts

By Igor Borunov with Russia

Russia is famously mysterious, and getting to grips with the national psyche is no easy task. The same applies to the national team ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017, as we still do not fully know how they are going to perform at the Tournament of Champions.

The Opening Match against New Zealand on 17 June should, though, shed some light on a few unanswered questions.

Will Russia’s wing-backs manage to soar?
Stanislav Cherchesov tends to prefer a three-man defence with two wing-backs tasked with blocking off the opponent’s options out wide. Russia’s head coach can choose between two players to fill these berths on each flank. On the left, it will likely be Dmitri Kombarov or Yuri Zhirkov, who have made four and seven appearances respectively under Cherchesov. On the right, he has to decide between the attack-minded Aleksandr Samedov (nine appearances during his tenure in various positions) or the more defensive Igor Smolnikov (three appearances). It remains to be seen which pairing he will ultimately go for.

Will the Sbornaya stick to this formation?
Cherchesov does appear to have opted for three at the back, but it is far from a strict tactical philosophy on his behalf. If necessary, he can easily switch to a more traditional flat back-four and indeed he has done so in three of his nine matches in charge - albeit in 2016.

Who will replace the injured Zobnin in midfield?
Roman Zobnin’s injury is a big loss for the team, who already have to do without Alan Dzagoev in the middle of the park. Russia have the excellent Denis Glushakov in midfield and, though gifted as he is, he cannot be everywhere. Who is there to assist Glushakov? The most likely options are Aleksandr Erokhin (eight appearances under Cherchesov), Yuri Gazinsky (five appearances) or Dmitri Tarasov (two).

How much is Cherchesov relying on Bukharov?
When asked how he will cope without powerful centre-forward Artem Dzyuba, Cherchesov casually replied: "We’ve got Aleksandr Bukharov." The latter has featured in all four friendlies this year, but he only started in two, has yet to complete 90 minutes and has scored only one goal. Will he have an impact against New Zealand’s physical brand of football? Or do the country’s hopes rest primarily on the shoulders of the slenderer Fyodor Smolov?

How will young talents Golovin and Miranchuk perform?
Of course, Smolov cannot do it all on his own. Russia’s flourishing young stars Alexei Miranchuk (seven appearances under Cherchesov, one goal) and Aleksandr Golovin (four appearances) must provide the support in attack. At the tender age of 21, can the duo make the step-up in such an important game, or will they only play minor roles at the Saint Petersburg Stadium? We will find out on Saturday.