Russia must go for broke in Saturday's deciding qualifier with Germany as they bid to assure themselves of an automatic berth at 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Russia suffered their only qualifying campaign loss last year in Dortmund, losing out 2-1 to Group 4 leaders Germany, but the latter themselves looked uncomfortable in dropping points in a 3-3 draw in Finland. Germany are currently one point ahead of the Russians with two matches remaining.
If Germany win on Saturday they will gain their passage to South Africa regardless of the result of their last qualifier with Finland. Russia, meanwhile, need not only to defeat the three-time world champions but also to win their last match in Baku against fellow ex-Soviet state Azerbaijan to obtain a place in the finals.
Russia's Dutch manager Guus Hiddink said he believed his team were capable to extend their winning streak to avoid play-offs for the place in the finals, But he warned a tough task is lay ahead. "The match with Germany will be without doubt a very tough game but this is the true football!" Hiddink said. "A packed arena watching the head-to-head battle for the group's top place. Ain't it really great!"
The match with Germany will be without doubt a very tough game but this is the true football,
Hiddink compared the situation for the Russian team in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying group to the task they were facing two years ago ahead of the deciding match with England in Moscow in the UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying campaign. "Yes, the situation looks pretty similar but now we are more experienced team than we were two years ago," Hiddink said.
"And I hope we will receive the same furious support of our fans that we had two years ago. But Germany is famous for their ability to stun their opponents with some unexpected surprises and this time, I think, we will have to do even more than we did against England to gain a success."
Hiddink added that he was confident that Germany and Russia will both play in next year's finals regardless of the result of Saturday's head-to-head clash. "I'm sure that both teams will play in the South Africa next year," he said. "The runners-up will just enter the finals through the back door" of the playoffs.
Russian international forward Pavel Pogrebnyak, who plays for German Bundesliga side Stuttgart, said he and his team-mates would win what he termed the Match of The Year. "We all understand that this is the year's most important match and we are set to win it," Pogrebnyak told the press.
Russia will likely form a full-strength line-up with one exception. Their first-team full back Denis Kolodin of Moscow Dynamo has failed to overcome his hip injury completely and will miss the encounter. Another Dynamo Moscow player Vladimir Gabulov, the national team's number two goalkeeper, is also out after he recently fractured a face bone.
The group's second-place finisher will face a play-off over two legs against one of the other eight best runners-up from the European qualifying zone. The draw for the play-offs will be made on 19 October and the games will be played on 14 and 18 November.