Capello the catalyst in Russian rise
© AFP

Expectations surrounding the Russia national team have always been high, but with only five and a half years until the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ takes place in the country, they have now risen to a whole new level.

So far the Sbornaja have responded well to the increased pressure, and many are suggesting the nation often referred to as a 'sleeping giant' could be on the verge of great things under the guidance of Fabio Capello.

Russia's 12 points from four Brazil 2014 qualifiers, and goal difference of 8:0, leave no doubts as to the team to beat in European Zone Group F. Azerbaijan (1-0), Israel (4-0) and Northern Ireland (2-0) have all succumbed to the section leaders, whose 1-0 victory over fellow qualification favourites Portugal in October provided their clearest statement of intent yet.

Return to the top ten
The only team along with the Netherlands yet to drop a point in qualifying, Russia have also returned to the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings on the back of their four straight competitive wins. Having tumbled from sixth place to 12th in October 2009, the Russians subsequently fluctuated between 11th and 25th but have moved up to ninth in the latest standings.

A disappointing 2-2 draw with USA in the November friendlies showed that there is still room for improvement for the side captained by Igor Denisov, but the world's largest country in terms of land mass is certainly on the right track to re-establish itself as a global football power.

The man credited with inspiring Russia's recent revival is Capello. Spirits were low after the national team's disappointing group stage exit at UEFA EURO 2012, but the 66-year-old Italian's authoritarian approach has brought about the desired change in the Sbornaja's fortunes.

"He puts a lot of emphasis on discipline," said current international Alexander Samedov of Lokomotiv Moscow. Indeed, several big names have fallen by the wayside, with the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Yuri Zhirkov all yet to appear in qualifying for Brazil 2014.

That Capello is not afraid to make tough decisions when it comes to perceived stars is of course no big secret. With Russia having missed out on the last two FIFA World Cups, the former England coach is determined to do whatever it takes to get his side to South America.

"I hope that we're involved in the World Cup in Brazil in two years' time," said Capello recently. "I plan to retire after that, although I may reverse that decision if there's a really interesting offer on the table."

If Capello can secure Russia tickets to the greatest show on earth, the man they call Don Fabio may soon become known as the new tsar of Russia.