Russia thrashed by Portugal 7-1
There are several things that should be said about the humiliation of the Russian national soccer team last night in the Jose Alvalade Stadium, Lisbon, where Portugal inflicted one of the worst-ever results on the pupils of Georgy Yartsev.
First, there was not a six-goal difference between the performance of the two teams on the field and Portugal were not six goals better than Russia comparing with their last match in the summer during EURO 2004, which Portugal won 2-0, aided by some very suspicious refereeing.
Second, it should be pointed out that the Russian side held the Portuguese and played on equal terms for the first 25 minutes of each half, conceding three goals in the final 20 minutes of the first half and four in the final twenty minutes of the second.
Third, such a result is not as dramatic as it may seem in terms of the global campaign, which is to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Finals in Germany in 2006. Given that two teams will go through from Group 3, and that Portugal is the favourite to win the group, then losing both games to Portugal is not a problem.
In principle, Russia should beat and score goals against all the other teams in the group (Estonia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg and Slovakia), with only one hard game to win, in Bratislava, hardly an impossible task.
Fourthly, such a result can actually provide an important lesson for the team management and the players.
Drawing conclusions from yesterday's games, too much space was given to Portugal, whose individual players have the skills to destabilize a defence or turn a game. Many teams have one such player. Portugal has several. Deco can squeeze a ball through the tiniest of spaces for a striker to run on to, or can unleash a blistering shot from the tightest of angles.
Cristiano Ronaldo causes panic when he runs at a defence, creating gaping holes for other players to occupy and take up a striking position and in general Portugal's midfield serves as a very efficient striking force, all the players being capable of shooting or heading well from close or medium range.
Why then did Yartsev give the Portuguese team so much space? His comment "We have no excuses. The motivation of certain players was too low - maybe they do not want to work with me. I am sorry for this nightmare" includes a mea culpa and how true this is. Russia should have been playing a classic W M formation, with up to eight players crowding the defence, while readying for counter attacks with six players surging forward on the break.
Like this Portugal would not have had the space to use its trump cards – the dynamic duo in midfield of Deco and Ronaldo (among others).
However, what is also totally unacceptable is the total lack of commitment from professional football players who receive good money to work hard once a week for 90 minutes, providing the crowd who pay a lot of money for the tickets with some entertainment.
The Russian players, it seems, shrugged their shoulders after the first goal, which appeared offside, remembering no doubt the travesty of justice which was the sending off of Ovchinnikov in the game during the EURO 2004, which swayed the result.
Giving up is not the way a professional sportsman should behave and it is certainly not befitting of a footballer representing his country's national team. Yesterday's game resembled more a game on the beach between married and single men, or between those wearing shirts and those without, as if the result did not matter because the drinks after the game were on the house.
The performance of the Russian national team was by no means a disgrace but the result was. As with everything else, the question is not to make the mistake. The question is to learn from it.
If Russia can draw the necessary conclusions and put right what was wrong, the team should still quality for Germany and have a good campaign in the world cup. The players are there and so are the skills. What is needed is a spine.