Manager Fabio Capello has confirmed the disgraced Zenit midfielder Igor Denisov will remain captain as Russia host Portugal in their crucial World Cup qualifier at the Luzhniki Stadium.
This is Russia's hardest test so far in their bid to automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, preparations for the game with Portugal haven't been ideal with Igor Denisov's row with Zenit making all the headlines.
The 28 year old has been training with the Zenit reserves for the last three weeks, after refusing to play in a league match against Krylya Sovetov because he wants a higher salary.
However, the Zenit midfielder assures he is in excellent physical shape and will be ready to take on the Portuguese.
“I would like to thank Fabio Capello for calling me up to the national team squad and I will try to do everything to repay his faith in me,” Denisov said, adding: “In terms of Zenit, I have read a lot in the press about me, and I think a lot of what they are saying is incorrect. My mind is on helping Russia at the moment, and after these internationals I will go back to St Petersburg and sort everything out there.”
Capello once again confirmed that Denisov is a key player for the Russian national team and that he will stay as captain and despite his problems the midfielder will have his national team's head coach’s full backing.
“I have been in contact with Zenit and Luciano Spalletti about the situation with Igor Denisov. I have known for a long time that I will call up Denisov, as he is a very important player for the Russian national team,” Capello says.
“My main thoughts are about doing the best for the team. If I had any concerns about his fitness, then I would have sent him home.”
Russia will not have fond memories about their last meeting with Portugal, as they were humbled by seven goals to one almost eight years ago to the day.
The Portuguese have an array of attacking options, in particular Cristiano Ronaldo. Russia’s manager has been paying special attention to the team’s tactics and he is positive his side will be well prepared for the potential threat they will face.
“We will have a team meeting later, where we will discuss our tactics and how we will approach the game. Everyone is aware of the potential threat that Cristiano Ronaldo poses,” says Capello.
“Of course, we will be trying to stop him, but it isn't always that easy. When he picked up an injury in his last game against Barcelona, of course I was hoping it would be more serious, as that would have made our task much easier.”
Capello is aware of who will start against the Portuguese, though there are slight injury concerns about Roman Shirokov, Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Sergey Ignashevich, who have all been training individually, though it is likely the trio will all be fit.
Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo did get a taste of the Luzhniki stadium during a short training session with his teammates. His left shoulder didn’t appear to hamper him too much after falling heavily on it last week. Fellow Real Madrid star Pepe is also expected to be fit after recovering from a thigh problem.