Russia pay for not moving with the times
Manager Dick Advocaat blamed for exit
June 18 ~ When you prepare for a tournament with a 3-0 humbling of Italy and follow that up with an impressive 4-1 victory in your opening group fixture, expectation levels tend to be set rather high. It is perhaps this elevated mindset that explains why Russia's crash to earth has been quite so abrupt. Approaching the tournament, much of the talk was about how little the side had changed since their thrilling run to the semi-finals in 2008. Igor Denisov (who refused a call-up last time round), Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kerzhakov were the only regular starters absent from the squad that went to Austria and Switzerland under Guus Hiddink.
That continuity could be interpreted in two ways. The familiarity the players share undoubtedly makes them one of the more fluid international sides. But the strength of the 2008 showing also means that a number of players have retained their positions on reputation rather than form.
That complacency disastrously reared its head in Maribor in 2009, when the Russians were eliminated by a theoretically inferior Slovenia in the play-off for a place at the World Cup. Hiddink departed and many predicted reform. The choice of successor, however, was critical to maintaining the status quo within the squad.
Having coached Zenit St Petersburg to a Russian league title and a UEFA Cup triumph, Dick Advocaat was familiar with the Russian game and had already worked with many members of the national team. That perhaps allowed a more rapid assimilation, but didn't increase the chances of any squad replenishment. Unsurprisingly, the old guard remained and Russia qualified comfortably for Euro 2012.
Speaking with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say that Advocaat should have injected some freshness into a squad that eventually appeared weighted by a combination of fatigue and complacency. Yet it was only really the Greece game in which the Russians came disastrously unstuck.
The Russian media and fans, though, have taken an unforgiving tone from the moment the final whistle blew in Warsaw. Most of the criticism has been aimed at the sluggishness of the performance, accusing Advocaat for not setting his side up to win the tie (a draw would have put them through) and also for the poor physical preparation of the players.
The ferocity of the response can be partly explained by the deterioration in the relationship between the players and the public. The elevated status they have enjoyed since 2008 has, many believe, contributed to their degeneration into prima donnas, "playing to the VIP box". One angry commenter on Sovetsky Sport's website even suggested that the whole team be left on Warsaw's Poniatowski Bridge, the site where marching Russian fans were attacked by Poles prior to last Tuesday's clash between the two countries.
Advocaat's coldness has prevented him from finding many sympathisers. He may play the same players and system as his predecessor, but shares none of the same charm and affability. "I do not care what people think and say about me," he snapped after the Greece game when someone suggested that it was the match he would be remembered for in Russia. "I am convinced that we had a good team. What happened today, it's just football."
Come 2014, the only members of the team that started against Greece who will still be under 30 are Alan Dzagoev and Denis Glushakov (who was only standing in for the unwell Konstantin Zyryanov, 34). With Advocaat off to coach PSV Eindhoven, the Russian football association have some important deliberation in front of them. They have shirked the option of reform once before, but this time there appears to be no choice. Marcus Haydon