Russia's most influential player could take part in only one match at next month's European Championship.
|Andrei Arshavin must serve a suspension before|
seeing action at the Euros [GALLO/GETTY]
Zenit St. Petersburg playmaker Andrei Arshavin will sit out the team's first two group matches because he got sent off in Russia's final qualifying match, a 1-0 win over Andorra that earned the team a spot at the tournament in Switzerland and Austria.
So Russia, which opens against Spain and later plays Greece in Group D, won't have the 26-year-old Arshavin available until it meets Sweden, and by then the team could be on its way home.
"It is not good for Russia because Arshavin is one of the most talented players in Russia,'' Zenit coach Dick Advocaat said.
Still, Advocaat has proved that Russian teams can prosper even without Arshavin in his favourite role, roving across the field just behind the striker.
Arshavin was suspended for the second leg of the Uefa Cup semifinals, but Zenit still trounced Bayern Munich 4-0 to reach the final.
He came back in style, leading the way as Zenit beat Rangers 2-0 in the final to become the second Russian club to win a European title, after CSKA Moscow in 2005.
Arshavin's skill and vision gave him a hand in both goals.
His quick pass split the defense in the 72nd minute, freeing Igor Denisov to score.
A similar pass in injury time released Fatih Tekke, who crossed from the left for Konstantin Zyryanov to add the second goal.
Big clubs beckon
Arshavin began his career as a right-sided midfielder, but midway through 2003 he moved into a wide position in the attack.
He scored twice in his first match as a striker and has not looked back.
Arshavin made his international debut against Belarus in May 2002 and has scored 10 goals for Russia in 33 appearances.
He has also been chosen captain by Russia coach Guus Hiddink.
His pivotal role in the UEFA Cup final was the type of eye-catching performance on a major stage that will only serve to fuel speculation Arshavin could be headed to a major European club next season.
Advocaat admits it will be tough to keep the player in St. Petersburg, where he was born and came up through Zenit's youth program.
"There is great doubt,'' Advocaat said. "It will be a big problem.''