Russia's national soccer team to play against Georgia

On Saturday, Russia's national soccer team plays against their Georgian counterparts in a qualifying match of the 2004 European Championship.

Interestingly, Russians have so far played only four official matches against teams from the former Soviet Republics, with all four taking place in a qualifying round of the 2000 European Championship when the blind fortune had brought the national teams of Russia, Ukraine and Armenia into the same group.

In September 1998, the Russian side, coached by Anatoly Byshovets, lost 2-3 in Kiev to Ukraine.

The next match against a team representing a former Soviet Republic took place in 1999 when the Russians defeated Armenia 3-0 in Yerevan, with Valery Karpin scoring two and Vladimir Beschastnykh one goal for Russia.

The Russians were led to victory in that match by a new coach, Oleg Romantsev. In a return match against Armenia in Moscow the Russian side also took the upper hand, defeating the opponents 2-0, with the same Karpin and Beschastnykh scoring a goal each.

The Russian national team's latest match against a line-up from a former Soviet Republic has left an indelible mark in the soccer fans' memory. On October 9, 1999, the Russia-Ukraine qualifier played in front of a capacity crowd in Moscow's Luzhniki stadium ended in a 1-1 draw, which for Romantsev's team was tantamount to a defeat as the Ukrainians had as a result gained a decisive point that moved them to the second place in the group, leaving the Russians on the third place. It was Valery Karpin who again scored in that game. He and Vladimir Beschastnykh became Russia's top scorers in matches against rivals from former Soviet Republics, with four and three goals to their accounts respectively.

Karpin is not playing against Georgia on Saturday as Russia's new coach Valery Gazzayev has decided against drawing this halfback into the ranks of Russia's revamped line-up. Beschastnykh, however, has retained a place among the team's forwards.

The Russian team has met their Georgian counterparts only once so far. The Georgia-Russia friendly played in Tbilisi four years ago ended in a 1-1 draw.

Eight participants of that friendly will appear on the turf of Tbilisi's Locomotive stadium on Saturday - Vladimir Beschastnykh, Viktor Onopko, Sergei Semak and Sergei Ovchinnikov on the Russian side, and Shota Arveladze, Levan Kobiashvili, Levan Tkhitishvili and Givi Didava on the Georgian side. The match starts at 7 p.m. Moscow time.