Fabio Capello has confirmed that CSKA Moscow defender Vasily Berezutskiy will lead Russia out against the Korea Republic at the FIFA World Cup™ on Tuesday.
Berezutskiy will step in as captain in place of regular skipper Roman Shirokov, who stayed at home in Moscow after undergoing knee surgery. Giving his reasons for the appointment, Capello told the pre-match press conference in Cuiaba: "Igor (Denisov, Dynamo Moscow midfielder) is the leader on the pitch, but he (Berezutskiy) speaks English, and communication with the referee is important."
The CSKA player commented: "It's a big honour to be appointed captain - it's a big responsibility, I want to be a good example on and off the pitch." Shirokov's absence was a blow, but not a decisive one, Berezutskiy said. "Of course Shirokov was a big loss for us, however the Russia team are strong as a team, we shouldn't be fixated on the fact that his absence here will influence our game too much."
Russia are back at the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 12 years, sealing their passage to Brazil with an impressive qualifying run. They have only met the South Koreans once, defeating the 2002 semi-finalists 2-1 in a friendly in Dubai last November.
It's true, the biggest star is the coach.
Capello stressed the importance of Russia's return to football's high table, given they are hosting the tournament in four years time: "The important thing is that we're here in Brazil after 12 years away. The next step will be playing at home in 2018. We need this experience now to understand the world level of football.
"The level is top, it's great experience in terms of our preparations for 2018, and the 2016 [UEFA European Championship]. The pressure on Russia at the next World Cup will be even greater," added the former Real Madrid, AC Milan and Roma boss, who has signed a contract to still be in charge of the Russian team in four years time.
Capello, who turns 68 on Wednesday, said he was confident in his team's ability to make their mark in a first round Group H, which also houses Belgium and Algeria.
"I'm happy at what we've done so far, but this is just the beginning. I'm sure we will play an excellent World Cup, I've got excellent, organised players. The most important things are intelligence, and the respect of your rivals and to play with personality."
Asked by a Russian journalist if he was concerned that his players struggled to name any of the Korea Republic team, Capello shrugged: "No, not at all. It's not important to know players' names, what is important is to know their characteristics."
One peculiarity of this Russian side is that it is wholly comprised of players earning their bread and butter in their domestic league, although some did try their luck abroad before returning home. That has prompted suggestions that Capello is the squad's greatest asset.
"It's true, the biggest star is the coach," Berezutskiy told the press conference at Cuiaba's Arena Pantanal. "He's a very respected coach, he's won in Spain, in Italy, he's won the (UEFA) Champions League, we don't have any players in the squad with such a respected reputation."