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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hiddink's Team Sizes Up Slovenia Ahead of Saturday's Match

ReutersFrom left to right, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Vasily Berezutsky, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Sergei Semak, Russian national team soccer players, displaying the new national team kit during a presentation in Moscow Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009

Russia coach Guus Hiddink will put his team on the attack against Slovenia on Saturday in the first leg of its World Cup playoffs.

Russia, surprise semifinalist at last year's European Championship, won seven of its 10 qualifying matches but finished behind Germany in Group 4.

Defense was the team's strongest department in qualifying — the Russians conceded only six goals — but Hiddink is putting the onus on his strikers ahead of the first match of the two-leg playoff at Luzhniki Stadium.

"We will go for an attacking style of play," the Dutchman said. "[But] we are not in a position to expect an easy outing.

"If you take a look at Slovenia's results in its group qualifiers and in friendly matches, you will see that it's a very serious, well-organized and tactically skilled team," Hiddink added. "There is not the slightest hint in the Russia team of underestimating Slovenia. We all understand that these will not be easy matches — the stakes are too high."

Slovenia boasts few star names in its team but has at times been impressive since losing all three games in its World Cup debut in 2002.

It qualified for the playoffs from a pool that saw neighbor Slovakia progress automatically.

Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek claimed that his team, which lies 37 positions below 12th-ranked Russia, is the underdog.

"Do you know who's a favorite for this playoff?" Kek said. "I do. It's Russia. But no one can deprive us of our desire to win it."

Slovenia striker Zlatko Dedic added, "We are going to play our game and we are not afraid. Yes, Russia is the favorite but we hope that in 90 minutes we will have our chances to score."

The only injury doubt on either team is Yury Zhirkov, the Russia and Chelsea left back who on Wednesday reported knee pains after training on Luzhniki's artificial field.

With striker Roman Pavlyuchenko rarely starting at Tottenham, Hiddink has recalled Lokomotiv Moscow's Dmitry Sychev for Saturday's match.

Sychev, who was last called up in the spring, is in good form after scoring the winner in Lokomotiv's 1-0 win over Amkar on Sunday in the Russian league.

Moscow officials will place face masks on each of the stadium's 80,000 seats for the game, fearing the further spread of swine flu.

Russia failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but has improved since then under Hiddink.

Hiddink has the Russians playing with both grit and style. Slick team movement has given Arsenal forward Andrei Arshavin plenty of options for his accurate passes and layoffs, while defending in numbers has made scoring against Russia a difficult task.

The return leg is in Maribor, Slovenia, on Wednesday.