MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia coach Guus Hiddink has warned his side not to under-estimate Slovenia when the two sides clash here on Saturday in the first-leg of their World Cup play-off.
Russia, semi-finalists at Euro 2008, are the overwhelming favourites to reach the finals in South Africa next summer, but Hiddink insists that unheralded Slovenia can rise to the occasion.
"We should never underestimate Slovenia," Hiddink said. "They are a very strong team, both in terms of their results and playing style.
"Slovenia are very disciplined and hard-working with a modern concept of playing. Their strength is their unity, there are no individual stars in their line-up."
Dutchman Hiddink added that the outcome of the two-legged play-off with Slovenia will have an effect upon the development of Russian football.
"Two very important matches lie ahead," he said. "Russia has bid for the right to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup and our victory could be an additional argument in favour of the country's bid."
Russia skipper Andrei Arshavin confirmed Hiddink's beliefs.
"In the play-offs any accidental goal can change the situation completely," said Arsenal star Arshavin.
"It's even more important as we still do not know exactly what we are capable of. We should avoid any kind of celebration before we achieve our goal."
Russia, who finished second in their group four points behind Germany, have met Slovenia on three previous occasions - clinching a win in a friendly while two of their meetings in the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign ended in a draw and a defeat.
Russia have played twice previously appeared in play-offs.
In their first attempt, they lost their two-legged clash for a place in the 1998 World Cup finals to Italy.
The second try was more successful with Russian beating Wales on their way to the Euro 2004 finals.
Russian football boss Vitaly Mutko has already announced cash incentives, promising every player 100,000 euros for victory.
On Saturday, Russia should be at full-strength, but Hiddink is concerned about the poor form of Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who is lacking match practice at his club.
Another first-team player, Chelsea winger Yury Zhirkov, who recently overcame a knee injury, is also lacking match fitness.
Slovenia manager Matjaz Kek confidently predicted his team would win in Moscow.
"We are definitely capable," said Kek. "The Russians are under pressure as favourites and we have a very strong desire to play at our first ever World Cup."
Slovenia skipper Robert Koren warned Russia they should prepare for a shock.
"We have already proved that we can play quality football," Koren said. "But we have continued improving our playing. We will give everything we have to win."
|D. Bilyaletdinov||40' 52'|
|Coach: G. Hiddink|
|Mourinho rejects ´best coach in the world´ tag|
|Manchester United not giving up on Premier League, insists Mkhitaryan|
|Infantino favours 16 three-team groups at World Cup - report|
|Europa League an ´important competition´ for Mourinho|
|Brozovic extends Inter stay|
|Rooney still has England future - Hodgson|
|New wardrobe top of Jesus´ Manchester to-do list|
|Pioli not concerned by Simeone´s Inter comments|
|Poyet: It would be a pleasure to sign Tevez|
|Celtic charged by UEFA over crowd disturbances|
|Not extending Man United stay my only regret - Larsson|
|Aubameyang´s mum: He always spoke about Madrid, never Barcelona|
|AC Milan sale delayed until March|
|Police horse burger thrower fined|
|Nolito comfortable with Guardiola´s rotation policy|
|Ajax expect in-demand Bazoer to exit|
|Not even the Golden Boot would get me an England recall, says Defoe|
|MLS MVP Villa has no interest in Premier League move|
|Vidal: I never had a problem with Luis Enrique|
|Ancelotti not keen on Madrid Champions League reunion|
|Zabaleta: Guardiola needs Iheanacho more than ever|
|Ranieri not fearful of Foxes chop|
|Celtic fan arrested for throwing burger at police horse|
|Dad-to-be Lewandowski reveals baby news with goal celebration|
|Klopp´s Liverpool watched Barca at Camp Nou|
|Wenger braced for tough last-16 draw|
|Roberts buoyed by Guardiola acclaim|
|Gladbach´s Alvaro Dominguez retires at 27|
|Simeone satisfied with aggressive Atletico|
|Emery aims to bounce back after European disappointment|
|Madrid demand ´maximum respect´ for Ronaldo|
|No pressure on Iheanacho to fill Aguero´s boots - Guardiola|
|Cocu praises PSV effort despite European exit|
|Ancelotti hoping for confidence boost|
|Gunes takes blame for Besiktas thrashing|
|Vitoria upbeat despite Napoli defeat|
|Arda Barca future brighter after hat-trick|
|Le Tissier makes ´naked massage´ claims|
|´He has a smell for the goal´ - Wenger hails hat-trick hero Lucas|
|Guardiola to assess Roberts situation at end of season|
|Napoli have no fear - Reina|
|Iheanacho shines but Guardiola concerns lie deeper|
|Barcelona pass masters set new Champions League benchmark|
|Dybala ready to return for Juventus|
|PSV 0 Rostov 0: Russians seal Europa League spot with stalemate|
|Paris Saint-Germain 2 Ludogorets 2: Di Maria rescues draw but PSG miss out on top spot|
|Benfica 1 Napoli 2: Super-sub Mertens seals top spot|
|Dynamo Kiev 6 Besiktas 0: Nine-man visitors crash out|
|Messi fails to match Ronaldo´s Champions League record|
|Basel 1 Arsenal 4: Lucas hat-trick helps Gunners clinch top spot|
|Manchester City 1 Celtic 1: Roberts scores against parent club|
|Bayern Munich 1 Atletico Madrid 0: Lewandowski free-kick the difference in Bavaria|
|Barcelona 4 Borussia Monchengladbach 0: Arda hat-trick lights up Barca procession|
|Zidane ´more sympathetic´ than other Madrid coaches, says Ramos|
|Bartra eager to square up against old rivals Madrid|
|Pardew´s job is ´totally safe´ - Palace chairman|
|Shelvey and Dummett red card appeals successful|
|Lopes doubtful for Sevilla clash due to lack of sleep|
|Real Madrid test will bring the best out of Aubameyang - Tuchel|
|Slutsky to leave CSKA Moscow|
|Genesio hails Valbuena character|
|Spurs hungry for Europa League football - Vertonghen|
|Deschamps claims Pogba is unlikely to ever win Ballon d´Or|
|Xavi: Barca have not lost their essence|
|Strootman banned for sparking Rome derby brawl|
|Mkhitaryan accepts blame for slow start at United|
|New York City star Villa named MLS MVP|
|Ramos distances himself from tax avoidance scandal|
|Witsel casts doubt on January Juventus switch|
|Schmidt has faith in misfiring Hernandez|
|Gabriel not happy at Inter, says agent|
|PSG just another game for returning Balotelli|
|Dortmund eye top spot and a goalscoring record - Champions League in Opta numbers|
|Southgate bids farewell to England assistant Lee|
|Europa League can help Spurs end Wembley hoodoo - Pochettino|
|Watmore´s season ended by injury|
|Zidane: Dortmund clash is a final|
|Gotze to miss Madrid test|
|Lacazette to ponder Lyon future|
|Griezmann lauds ´world class´ Aubameyang|
|Sporting´s in-demand Gelson going nowhere, claims agent|
|FA appoints new lead QC as scope of child sexual abuse review is outlined|
|Hodgson: England players failed to grasp my instructions|
|Xhaka pleads for time to settle in at Arsenal|
|Kluivert urges PSG to learn from Montpellier humbling|
|Augenthaler tips Bayern captain Lahm to play on|
|Rodgers: Celtic growing in confidence in Europe|
|Brazil-Colombia friendly proposed to raise money for Chapecoense|
|If you don´t play, you can´t shine - Hummels urges Mourinho to believe in Mkhitaryan|
|Ronaldinho ready to help Chapecoense|
|United can still finish top four - Guardiola|
|Bale´s ankle ´feeling better every day´|
|Sarri: Napoli in Lisbon to win|
|Watford and West Brom hit with FA charge|
|Karanka delighted with Boro´s game management|
|Middlesbrough 1 Hull City 0: Ramirez sinks sorry Tigers|
|Can Arsenal break the Basel curse? The Champions League in Opta Numbers|
|Everton confirm serious knee injury for Bolasie|
|Stam set for Old Trafford reunion in FA Cup third round|
|Sanchez, Ozil contract talks not just about money - Wenger|
|It is normal my son says I´ll coach Inter, I will - Simeone|
|Chapecoense confirmed as Copa Sudamericana champions|
|Sullivan backs Bilic to reverse Hammers´ fortunes|
|It was close...very close - Hummels reveals level of Man United interest|
|What You Might Have Missed: An FA Cup comeback of all comebacks and Monaco can´t stop scoring|
|Preston fans to be refunded from Beckford, Doyle fight fines|
|In-demand Lindelof ´happy to stay at Benfica´|
|FA charges City and Chelsea for late fracas|
|Darmstadt sack coach and sporting director after dismal run|
|Anyone who says they would not sign Messi is a liar! - Caballero|
|Roberto warns Madrid: Barcelona will cut the gap|
|Emery: Champions League top spot was always PSG´s priority|
|Guardiola brands Sanchez transfer rumours as lies|
|Boateng ruled out of Bayern´s clash with Atletico|
|FA confirms four-game ban for Aguero|
|Blatter FIFA ban remains after CAS dismisses appeal|
|Luis Enrique: I don´t give a damn about beating Gladbach|
|Emre hits out at Allardyce´s style... and slams his chewing gum|
|Bravo the world´s best goalkeeper, says Pellegrini|
|Ibrahimovic: I know how to kick someone and make him fall asleep|
|Barcelona and Real Madrid would not win 5-0 in Ligue 1 - Verratti|
|Seedorf out, Eriksson in at second-tier Chinese club|
|Tevez to China? Shanghai Shenhua claim ´breakthrough´ in talks|
|´English football is not more pure´ – Pochettino will not slam Alli for ´dive´|
|Gudjohnsen offers his services to Chapecoense|
|Savicevic: Champions League qualification paramount for Milan|
|Wenger: West Ham could take two years to settle|
|River Plate play in green as tribute to Chapecoense|
|Roberto Carlos open to coaching in A-League|
|Wenger confident there is more to come from Arsenal|
|Kane wants to see out career at Tottenham|
|Aguero challenge labelled ´crazy´ by disappointed Cahill|
|Mourinho ´has nothing to hide´ over tax affairs|