12 August 2013 12:11

Russia will look to regain top spot in Group F in their crucial World Cup qualifying fixture against Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

Fabio Capello’s side currently trail Portugal by two points but they have two games in hand over the group leaders heading into the clash at Windsor Park.

The match was originally scheduled for March but was postponed due to heavy snowfall in Northern Ireland.

But Capello will be hoping to make up for lost time as the Russians look to assume control in the race to reach the finals in Brazil next year.

The Italian has picked a 24-man squad that includes regulars Igor Akinfeev, Alexander Kerzhakov and Sergei Ignashevich.

However, there is no place for former Arsenal forward Andrey Arshavin, who has been excluded despite his recent return to the Russian Premier League to join Zenit after a successful loan spell.

Russia have a strong chance to put themselves in pole position to qualify for Brazil in 2014, and Capello insists that the squad is fully focused on the task in hand.

“There has come a very important moment,” he the Russian Football Association website. “I think everybody understands the importance of the upcoming match.

“I am happy with the condition and mood of the players, their attitude to their work and the atmosphere within the team.”

Northern Ireland welcome back Palermo striker Kyle Lafferty, who missed the last qualifier with Israel, a 2-0 defeat, through suspension.

But David Healy, Paddy McCourt and Chris Baird are all omitted as they are currently without a club.

“It would be difficult to bring in players who haven’t had a proper pre-season,” Manager Michael O’Neill told BBC Northern Ireland.

“It would be unrealistic to ask those players to have any sort of impact or influence on an international fixture.

“I’ve spoken to all the players and I spoke to David (Healy) yesterday. I still think that he has something to offer.”

Northern Ireland are winless in the group and sit fifth on three points, while Russia are looking to bounce back from a disappointing defeat to Portugal in June.

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