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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

National Team Has Renewed Hope

The Russian national football team's first victory of its Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, a 2-0 win over Estonia on Wednesday, coupled with England's 2-0 loss to Croatia, has dramatically shaken up its qualifying group.

While nominally Russia is 5th in Group E, all four teams above are locked on seven points, two ahead of Guus Hiddink's side. Two of the teams in front, England and Macedonia, have also played one game more than Russia.

The top two teams from the group qualify for the finals, and if before the campaign started people had thought England would top the group comfortably -- leaving the other six teams to fight it out for second place -- now no one would predict an easy passage for any of the teams.

Croatia's victory over England was no aberration. It was the superior side, and while the English media has been quick to deride England's performance, Guus Hiddink will be well aware that the Croatian side would have provided a stern test for better teams than the one England sent out Wednesday night.

For their part, England will have much to ponder. Manager Steve McClaren's brave new dawn is looking more like Eriksson's insipid twilight with every match. The decision to play 3-5-2 backfired spectacularly against Croatia, leaving the defenders exposed and the midfield lacking width as Croatia pinned wingbacks, Gary Neville and Ashley Cole, back in their own half.

But with players like Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole and Owen Hargreaves missing on Wednesday, they will still present a huge obstacle for Russia when the two teams meet next year.

Israel, which held Russia 1-1 at home last weekend, is also very much in contention.

Hiddink will require all of his managerial expertise if he is to guide Russia through the group, but the signs are that he is getting to know his player's strengths and weaknesses.

The Russian defense was not good enough to protect a 1-0 lead against Israel, so in the game against Estonia, Hiddink sent his players out to attack.

With Andrei Arshavin a constant thorn in Estonia's side, the improvement, albeit against weaker opposition, was there for all to see.

While it was hardly "total football," Russia was rewarded for its endeavor with two goals. Both came from substitutes.

Hiddink's international track record speaks for itself, and there are signs that his team is starting to do the talking on the pitch.