Head coach Fabio Capello has turned to Russia’s next generation of attacking talent for their World Cup qualifier versus Portugal.
The 66-year-old Italian will be expected to start Zenit St Petersburg striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov in the home qualifier on Friday but could turn to Artyom Dzyuba, Alexander Kokorin or debutant Maksim Grigoriev to play in a front two or as options off the bench.
Dzyuba (24-years-old), Kokorin (21) and Grigoriev (22) have played a combined 10 matches for Russia’s senior national team and have been preferred by Capello over English Premier League-based pair Andrey Arshavin and Pavel Pogrebnyak.
Kokorin, who has played nine internationals for Russia, has the best form of Capello’s young forwards with six goals from 12 games for Dinamo Moscow so far this season.
Russia and Portugal will start their match in first and second place in Group F in UEFA qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup after two victories each from as many games, with Capello’s side just ahead courtesy of superior goal difference.
Serbia will host Belgium in another clash between two teams at the top of their group.
The two countries have a win and a draw each so far in Group A, with the Serbs ahead on goal difference, while Croatia are in third but also have four points going into their trip to Macedonia.
In another Group A clash, Wales host Scotland, while in Group B, Denmark head to Bulgaria and Czech Republic will welcome Malta to Plzen.
Austria face a tough trip in Group C as they go to Kazakhstan, as Sweden take on the Faroe Islands.
The Netherlands should have no problems at home versus Andorra in Group D, with the main fixture seeing top-side Romania head to Turkey and Estonia host Hungary.
In Group E, Switzerland are up against Norway, Albania will play Iceland and Slovenia take on Cyprus, while in Group F, Luxembourg host Israel as they both try to catch up to the Russians and Portuguese.
The top two teams in Group G will go head-to-head with Bosnia and Herzegovina travelling to Greece, plus Slovakia are set to host Latvia and Lithuania should be confident of victory on their trip to Liechtenstein.
In Group H, Moldova are up against Ukraine.