After being soundly beaten 3-0 by Wales, a dishevelled Russia became the third team to be eliminated from Euro 2016, joining their eastern neighbours Ukraine and Romania in exiting the competition at the group stage.
Devoid of desire, determination and passion, Russia were completely outclassed and out fought by a hugely impressive Welsh side, who deservedly qualified for the last 16.
Whilst Wales immediately settled into the game by playing with composure, control and poise, Russia were lethargic and seemingly overawed by the intensity of the occasion. To compound the nervousness of the Russian players, manager Leonid Slutsky instructed them to execute a high-risk pressing strategy, which ultimately presented Wales a great deal of space within which to play.
Subsequently Chris Coleman’s side clinically and continuously exploited that in the first half, as they gracefully dissected the Russian defence, at the heart of which the ageing centre back pairing of Sergei Ignasevich and Vasili Berezutski, were bullied by Wales lone striker Sam Vokes and tormented by Gareth Bale.
Trailing 2-0 at half time, Slutsky decided to replace Berezutski, with his twin brother Alexei but nevertheless Wales swiftly resumed their strong command of the game, so much so that the Russian manager then withdrew his captain Roman Shirokov. On leaving the field of play, Shirokov handed the captain’s armband to his replacement Aleksander Golovin, who unwillingly accepted before passing it to Ignasevich, with Russia’s record cap holder then shirking the responsibility onto the arm of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
The 30-year-old was understandably dismayed by the incident, whilst he became even more disillusioned with proceedings, when Bale deftly lifted the ball over him to score a third goal for Wales. Thereafter the Russian players half heartedly drifted through the remaining 25 minutes of the game, before being chastised for their performance in its aftermath by both the country’s media and several notable former players.
Football pundit Valery Reingold described the team’s Euro 2016 showing as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘embarrassing’, whilst former player Aleksander Bubnov forcefully summarised the grave state of his country’s current team. “Two years before hosting the World Cup, the only thing we have right now is total confusion. There is no coach, no leader in the team, not even a defined skeleton of a future team.”
Another former Russian player to voice displeasure at the performance of his predecessors was Alexsander Mostovoi, who told Spain’s El Pais that he believed the current Russian players “lack the ambition to compete” and that none of the current squad would make it into the team he played in through the 1990s
Such strong criticism is ultimately justified, due to the humiliating manner of Russia’s elimination, which has resulted in Slutsky resigning as manager of the team. The 45-year-old, who is also CSKA Moscow’s head coach, humbly conceded he is no longer the man to lead his country.
“After a type of tournament like this, you need someone else to take charge of the national side for major competitions,” said Slutsky.
As well as an abysmal on-field performance, another main feature of Russia’s Euro 2016 campaign was the violent behaviour of a section of their supporters throughout the first fortnight of the tournament. Therefore Russia’s exit from this European Championship will be remembered as one of, if not the, most ignominious in the competition’s history.
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