Belfast Telegraph

Capello goes on defensive ahead of Russia's Windsor Park game

By Stuart McKinley

Fabio Capello walked in to face the media at Windsor Park with a smile on his face. The Italian looked happy to be in Belfast – much happier than back in March when he couldn't get his Russian squad out of town quickly enough after a snow fall put paid to their World Cup qualifier with Northern Ireland.

When the original fixture was postponed back in March plans were put in place to play it the following day. Russia were having none of that. They had a money-spinning friendly against Brazil in London on the Monday and their plane left for England on Saturday lunch time BEFORE the scheduled kick-off time.

This time they have done things the opposite way around. They held a training camp in London over the weekend before flying to Belfast yesterday.

The game will definitely go ahead and Capello will remain happy as long as his team don't have to repeat the defensive display that he was forced to put on in during his pre-match press conference.

You see, when Northern Ireland played in Moscow last September he wrote off Michael O'Neill's team.

He was faced with a striker crisis and was left with only two fit front men, but didn't call in a replacement.

He was quoted as saying: "We do only have two strikers and we will maybe call one up for the next game, but it's only Northern Ireland and I expect us to be fit enough against them."

To be fair to him, something may have got lost in translation between Russian, Italian and English, but this time he's on our territory and it's payback time.

So, why, Don Fabio, did you disrespect our wee country?

"No," he said, with something of a surprised look on his face.

"Look, I respect all the teams – always.

"And I respect the other manager. If I didn't select new players it was because I thought that the players I had were good and good enough. If someone was better I would have selected them before.

"The players that stayed at home weren't as good as the players that I selected."

Capello wasn't content with insulting our boys in the build up to the match in Moscow, he also had a dig at Northern Ireland AFTER the game.

His summing up of his team's 2-0 win included: "To play attractive football you need two good teams. Here one team just wanted to play long balls."

Now, however, he's already on the back foot before the game.

"I don't know what will happen in the game. I will speak about it after," he said

"They are really dangerous at set-pieces and are strong in this area. They like to play the ball, not long ball."

The former England manager did have something nice to say about Windsor Park though. On the difference in the conditions between now and March he said: "We like the pitch. We like everything."

Capello was the only one doing any talking in the press conference. Maybe he's happy to let his players do their talking on the pitch.

Captain Igor Denisov had sat down beside his manager before things got under way, but he hardly had time to make himself comfortable when he was whisked away by former Irish League referee Norman Cowie.

The skipper hadn't signed a form to go along with his passport – as Fifa regulations require players to do. And there was no keeping the match delegate and observer waiting, even if you are a £13m footballer.

Denisov's summer move to from Zenit St Petersburg to big spending rivals Anzhi Makhachkala has sparked controversy.

One version of events says that he has refused to play with Samuel Eto'o and Lassana Diarra – with a 'either they go or I go' ultimatum laid at the club's door.

Another suggests that a massive cut to the wage bill will see all the high earners leave.

A move to Dinamo Moscow is said to be imminent for Denisov.

The Russian media wanted to find out more and after he'd inked the required paper and returned to the room they repeatedly questioned the midfield star about his future.

Despite their continued probing he refused to answer and completely blanked every question on the subject.

If Northern Ireland can keep him as quiet tonight it will do Michael O'Neill's chances of winning the game the power of good.

Belfast Telegraph

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