Euro 2020: Russia aims for knockout stage, says sports minister

Russia take on Belgium, the world's top-ranked team, in its opener on June 12, and then Denmark and surprise qualifiers Finland.

Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said the Football Union has set the goal of reaching the next phase of the tournament.   -  REUTERS

Russia's sports minister said on Wednesday that the country's men's national football team aimed to reach the knockout stage of the European Championship, as it prepare to kick off its campaign on home turf in St Petersburg on Saturday.

Russia take on Belgium, the world's top-ranked team, in its opener on June 12, and then Denmark and surprise qualifiers Finland.

Currently ranked 38th, Russia has exited the Euros at the group stage in the last two tournaments.

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"The sports ministry, the Russian Football Union has set the goal of reaching the next phase of the tournament," Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin told reporters on the sidelines of a team training session, the RIA news agency reported.

"We have deployed many efforts for this to happen."

Russia face long odds to advance, however, as it try to fill the void left by the retirement of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and jump start its tepid attack.

Russia finished last in its group at the 2016 tournament in France, when violent clashes between Russian and English fans in Marseille overshadowed the team's performance.

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