Russians play down Euro chances
29 May, Euro 2012 friendly: Russia v Lithuania (Nyon, Switzerland, 6.45 UK)
Still 11 days to go before the start of the Euro finals and yet, inevitably, the mind games have started. Managers playing down their team’s chances, players bigging-up their opponents, the usual stuff. Sir Alex Ferguson, the master of the mind games, would be proud of them all.
Lowering expectations is a favourite trick of many as the psychological war rages but Igor Semshov sounded almost despondent as he examined Russia’s hopes in Group A alongside Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic. It was not exactly a rallying call from the Dinamo Moscow midfielder.
“We are the same as Greece,” Semshov said. “They are also going through a change of generations. Each team has its leaders but nobody knows what to expect because everything will depend on how well they prepare for the Euros and what shape their best players are in.”
Petr Cech, the Chelsea and Czech goalkeeper, struck a slightly more upbeat note but, again, was hardly oozing in gung-ho spirit. “It’s a very special group, all of the teams are very even,” Cech, recently voted his country’s player of the season for a record seventh time, said. “I don’t think that one team will win every match. I think there will be draws, and every goal and point will count, so it will be very interesting from the start.”
Russia should be oozing confidence after their encouraging 1-1 draw with Uruguay, the third-placed team in the world rankings, in Moscow on Friday. And but for a series of missed chances towards the end, they could have claimed a prize scalp. Lithuania, whom they now take on in neutral Switzerland in their latest warm-up fixture, are unlikely to prove such resilient opponents.
Still, the debate continues to rage in Russia as to whether the squad peaked in reaching the Euro 2008 semi-finals and is too old, with an average age of about 28, to compete at the very highest level. Andrei Arshavin, the captain, prefers to look at the positives. “There are advantages,” he said, “because we understand each other well. We know each other and we are used to each other.”
Losing two defenders – Vasili Berezutski, to a thigh injury, and Roman Shishkin, to illness – on the eve of the finals will test the strength and depth of the Russia squad, not to mention the ingenuity of Dick Advocaat, their Dutch coach. “Roman left the team because of gastrointestinal problems,” Advocaat said. “He has lost some weight and the prediction wasn’t optimistic.”
Optimistic Russia should be, despite the doom-mongers out there, and if they brush aside Lithuania, which they should, it will set them up nicely for the alogether more intimidating contest against Italy in Zurich on Friday night. Then it’s off to their training base in Sulejowek, 12 miles from Warsaw, the Polish capital … and game on.
Prediction: Russia 2, Lithuania 0.
Group A update: Poland defeated Slovakia 1-0 in Klagenfurt, Austria, on Saturday. Greece drew 1-1 with Slovenia in Kufstein, Austria; the Czech Republic overcame Israel 2-1 in Graz, Austria, thanks to a 94th-minute winner from David Lafata.