Expulsion threat mars Russian build-up to Slovakia Euro 2016 clash

Lille (France) (AFP) – Russia’s preparations for their second Euro 2016 Group B game against Slovakia in Lille on Wednesday have been overshadowed by UEFA’s threat to kick Leonid Slutsky’s team out of the competition.

UEFA on Tuesday fined the Russian Football Union and said the country would be sent home from France if there is a repeat of the crowd disturbances that marred their opening 1-1 draw with England in Marseille at the weekend.

There were also ugly scenes of violence on the streets of the southern city and authorities in Lille, at the other end of France, are hoping there is no repeat ahead of the Slovakia game.

Those fears are increased as many England fans will be gathering in Lille ahead of their team’s match against Wales in nearby Lens on Thursday.

“We don’t want to be disqualified from the Euros because of this,” said Russian striker Artem Dzyuba. “Our supporters have to focus on just supporting us and we will try to show our best qualities.

“We want to play this competition. We are happy to be here and it will be a big disappointment if we go out,” added the powerful Zenit St Petersburg striker.

Meanwhile, coach Slutsky expressed confidence that his team would not be sent home early for off-field reasons and indicated that it would be unfair if UEFA were to follow through with their threat.

“We are sure that we are not going to be kicked out. There is not going to be any injustice,” said the coach.

“We are sure that our supporters will not behave in the same way again and will not give any reasons to disqualify our team.”

In contrast, Slovakia’s opening 2-1 defeat to Wales in Bordeaux was played in a far friendlier atmosphere and coach Jan Kozak is hoping for a similar occasion at the Stade Pierre Mauroy, where the retractable roof is set to be closed at kick-off.

“If there are things I can’t control then I don’t think too much about them but it’s a pity because it’s a great competition,” he said of the crowd trouble.

“I am enjoying it immensely. There is a great atmosphere in the stadiums — in Bordeaux it was an experience that I will always remember.

“The Russian players and coach would not deserve anything bad because it should be all about the football here.”

 

– Pressure on England? –

 

Hit by injuries to key players before the tournament, Russia needed a stoppage-time goal by captain Vasili Berezutski to rescue a point against Group B favourites England.

A victory against Slovakia would therefore all but secure progress to the last 16 while also piling pressure on Roy Hodgson’s men in particular.

Having seen key midfield duo Igor Denisov and Alan Dzagoev withdraw from their squad before the England game, their only remaining injury concern surrounds back-up goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin, who has not trained.

Meanwhile midfielder Denis Glushakov, who was used from the bench against England, could come into the Russian starting line-up.

“I am pretty sure that we are not going to be overestimating ourselves,” added Slutsky.

“We are not actually favourites in any game. England are the best team in the group. Against the other teams we just have to perform as we did against England.”

For Slovakia there is even greater urgency in their search for a first European Championship finals win after their defeat to Gareth Bale and co.

Kozak will want more from his star creator, Napoli’s Marek Hamsik, and has admitted that changes to his line-up are a certainty with a full squad to choose from.

That means Ondrej Duda of Legia Warsaw, who came off the bench to score against Wales, could be promoted to the starting side.

“Of course I already know my starting XI, all the players are fit and ready to play. I think the match calls for certain changes in the line-up,” he said.

 

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