Germany coach Joachim Low admits Russia's attacking style will test his team's leaky defence when the two big names in Group 4 square off in Dortmund tomorrow in their FIFA World Cup™ qualifier.
Group leaders Germany enjoyed a strong start on the path to South Africa 2010 when they hammered minnows Liechtenstein 6-0, but days later their fragile defence creaked in the 3-3 draw with Finland in Helsinki. With the likes of rising star Andrei Arshavin in Russia's ranks, Low expects any lapse in concentration to be severely punished by the Russians, who are just behind them in the group after beating Wales last month.
"There are often only a few moments between them winning the ball and completing an attack," Low said. "They have a balanced and disciplined team and their approach has become much more structured and organised. If we make too many mistakes, we will be punished without mercy."
With Low's midfield generals Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings both back from injury, the German coach described the pairs influence as 'enormous' and will help stem Russia's attack. "I feel good," said Frings, back after a broken nose. "."
And Chelsea midfielder Ballack has brushed off his foot injury to retake his place at the team's helm as captain. In contrast, Russia coach Guus Hiddink has injury problems with striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, defender Denis Kolodin and midfielder Dmitry Torbinsky all ruled out.
Pavlyuchenko has been Russia's key striker for the past 12 months, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over England last October and netting three goals at EURO 2008 during Russia's run to the semi-finals.
Germany will be at full strength with strikers Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose playing in front of a midfield expected to contain Bastian Schweinsteiger, Frings, Ballack and Thomas Hitzelsperger. However, having been the surprise package of EURO 2008, the Russian team will present the Germans with few new surprises as Loew has had them watched extensively.
And Arshavin is no longer the surprise package he was and seems destined to leave UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg a big European club as both Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona have expressed an interest. "I know my future doesn't lie in Russia, I am not 20 anymore and I want a new challenge," said the 27-year-old.