IT’S as cliché as they come, but what a difference a week in football can make, and no team epitomises that saying quite like Russia right now.
Only last Friday, 8 June, fans witnessed an impressive, confident display from a Russian side, as the group favourites brushed aside the Czech Republic 4-1. In all honesty, had Aleksandr Kerzahakov made use of the numerous chances presented to him, the score line would have been even greater.
Four days later, on Russia Day, the team ranked 13th in the world by Fifa, went face-to-face with co-host Poland, and a 1-1 draw meant Dick Advocaat’s men needed just a point from their final group game to qualify.
Their opponents Greece went into the game bottom of Group A, having muster up just a single point as a result of a draw with Poland on the opening day and being defeated in their second game 2-1 by the Czech’s in Wroclaw.
The bookies clearly expected Russia to walk this group. Pre-tournament odds for winning the competition stood at 20/1 for Russia, compared to the 50/1 for Czech Republic and 66/1 for Poland and Greece.
However football doesn’t always follow the form guide and 2004 Euro winners Greece are a testament to that.
In a game once again caught in a storm, it was the Greek providing the shocks. Giorgos Karagounis, the 35-year-old Panathinaikos midfielder, broke through the Russian defence and buried a low drive past Vyachselav Malafeev in first half injury time. Russia dominated, but never recovered.
Over at the Wroclaw Municipal Stadium, a moment of magic from Petr Jiracek broke the hearts of two nations. And lady luck certainly wasn’t smiling on Arshavin and co when Jakub Blaszczykowski’s goal bound effort was cleared off the line by Michal Kadlec with the last action of the game.
Russia had emphatically crashed out of a group that it seemed everyone expected them to win and Kerzahakov will no doubt be the focal point of this failure.
The Zenit St Petersburg striker netted 24 goals domestically this season, and despite playing a part in all three games, out of his 14 shots at goal, he failed to find the net a single time — well actually he failed to even hit the target.
Dick Advocaat stubbornly kept his faith in the man who comically passed up seven opportunities on the opening day. Pavel Pogrebnyak, the Fulham forward who scored six times in eight for the Premier League outfit, could only look on frustrated from the sidelines as he was handed only 18 minutes against Greece for the whole duration of the tournament. Former spurs man, Roman Pavlyuchenko, also found himself behind the misfiring Kerzahakov, despite scoring against the Czech short after coming off the bench.
It is a sombre departure for Advocaat, who leaves his post for PSV on the 1 July, bringing to an end his two-year reign in the same manner that he began it, with a 1-0 defeat. For the nation he leaves behind, the Russian’s must now regroup and rebuild ahead of their World Cup 2014 qualification game against Northern Ireland in Moscow this coming September.
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