“Fiasco in Belfast,” “Russia in Belfast — a horror film,” “Russia — where do we go from here?” Feeble forwards.”
Those were the headlines that greeted Russian football fans as they opened the sports pages of their morning papers yesterday morning.
Following the shock defeat by Northern Ireland at Windsor Park on Wednesday night — a match which will no doubt enter the book of legendary victories of ‘our wee country’ over the giants of world football — the Russian press slammed their team.
Manager Fabio Capello readily admitted in his after-match press conference that his charges were outplayed by a determined Northern Ireland.
And to think that the Italian picks up an annual salary of some £7.8m compared to the £200,000 that Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill picks up per year.
“We can have no complaints, we were slower to the ball and deserved to be beaten,” said Capello immediately after his team’s 1-0 loss.
Soviet Sport correspondent Yevgeny Lovchev agrees: “Don't blame Capello, we have to be honest: our strikers are not good enough.
“In our clubs it is foreign players who play the leading roles, and in Belfast neither Aleksandr Kerzhakov nor his second-half replacement Artyom Dzyuba, were up to the task, like the rest of the team, they are not leaders.
“Team captain Igor Denisov's poor form on the pitch meant that he lost his authority, and to be frank, Russia were a shapeless, leaderless, bunch, without character or desire.
“As a consequence they were outplayed and out-thought by a modest, hardworking Northern Ireland team.”
In the prestigious newspaper Argumenty i Fakti (Arguments and Facts), sports correspondent Andrei Malosolov compared the result for Capello's team on Wednesday evening with the nightmare 1-0 play-off defeat against Slovenia in Maribor in November 2009 which saw Russia fail to qualify for the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa on away goals.
Northern Ireland also made a mockery of the FIFA Rankings. Russia were 16th before Wednesday night’s game, while O’Neill’s team were placed 109th — they won’t be there next month.
Despite all the doom and gloom, the Russians are still in a very strong position to qualify automatically for the 2014 finals in Brazil as group winners.
Presently they are two points behind Portugal, but with a game in hand and the Russians must be odds-on favourites, as indeed O'Neill stated in his post-match interview, to go to Brazil next summer.
And the downhearted correspondent of Soviet Sport, despite his harsh criticism of Wednesday's performance, believes that is the case: “However, on a more optimistic note, we also mustn't write off our chances of qualifying for Brazil because of this one match.
“We have four games remaining, at home next month to Luxembourg and Israel and then away to Luxemburg and Azerbaijan in October, while Portugal have three games left in which they can drop points: in Belfast next month, and then at home to Israel and Luxembourg in October.”