Nabokov also won't play for Russia

MOSCOW -- Russia has suffered a major blow to its buildup for the World Cup: No. 1 goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin said he would miss the event, which begins in early September.

Khabibulin, who backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to their first Stanley Cup earlier this month, was unhappy with Russia's preparations.

"We have no chance of winning based on the current situation surrounding the preparations of our national team," Khabibulin was quoted as saying by Sport-Express newspaper. "I have already had a similar experience before the 1996 World Cup when there was total chaos in our organization.

"This time we have more of the same and frankly I don't see any point in my participation in this tournament," he added.

Russia, trying for its first title at this event since 1981, will also be without goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Western Conference finals. He is having knee surgery next month.

Russia's preparations for the prestigious eight-team tournament have been off track since they started.

Last month, Russia named former Dynamo Moscow coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov to lead the team in place of 73-year-old Viktor Tikhonov, who was fired after Russia's dismal showing at the world championship in the Czech Republic.

Bilyaletdinov had been fired by Dynamo a month earlier after a string of poor results in the Russian Elite League, and his appointment as national team coach brought heavy criticism from the media and fans.

The Russians were also late naming their squad after asking World Cup organizers to extend deadline by a week.

Several of their leading NHL players said they were considering skipping the tournament, which brings together the world's top eight teams -- Canada, the United States, Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland and Germany.