CUIABA, Brazil (AP) — France and Colombia aren't the only teams without their best player at the World Cup.
Joining Franck Ribery and Radamel Falcao on the list of key performers missing this summer's extravaganza in Brazil is Roman Shirokov — Russia's captain, driving force and a reliable source of goals from midfield.
Shirokov was ruled out days before the start of the World Cup with a lingering back injury, news which caused a big fuss back home and sparked a general sense of resignation that Russia is unlikely now to be springing a surprise in Brazil.
In Shirokov's absence, coach Fabio Capello spent the pre-tournament friendlies changing the emphasis of attack from center of the pitch to the flanks — hardly an ideal shift of tactics at such a late stage and a sign of the importance attached to Shirokov.
"Of course, he is a big loss for us," said Vasily Beruzutsky, who was named Monday as Shirokov's replacement as captain for Russia's opening match of the World Cup against South Korea on Tuesday.
"However this Russia team is strong as a team, it's a collective effort. We shouldn't be fixated that his absence will affect us too much."
Even with Shirokov, the Russians would be unlikely to play a big part in Brazil, with coach Fabio Capello using the tournament as preparation for the 2018 World Cup — hosted by Russia. Getting out of their group would be an achievement but a repeat of the 2008 European Championships — when Guus Hiddink led the team to the semifinals — is highly unlikely.
In Capello, Russia has one of world football's most famous coaches who won a slew of league titles at club level with AC Milan, Real Madrid and Juventus but didn't fare so well in his first spell in international management.
He qualified England for the 2010 World Cup but the team flopped in South Africa, scrambling out of a weak group and then getting easily beaten 4-1 by Germany in the last 16.