Russia’s footballers came perilously close to a sporting Qatar-strophe in Tuesday’s friendly match in the Gulf.
A 1-1 draw against the world’s 90th best team spared some of Dick Advocaat’s blushes after the under-fire coach saw his team fall behind after just four minutes.
And in truth Russia could – and perhaps should – have been 3-0 down inside the first 10 minutes.
It could hardly get any worse, and Roman Pavlyuchenko duly delivered an equaliser on 34 minutes to end a record-breaking series of 386 minutes without a goal for the national team.
But at no point in the game did Russia look entirely comfortable against opponents who would be flattered by the term “mediocre” – ensuring that questions remain over Advocaat’s tenure as head coach.
Unable or unwilling?
Facing a predictably frosty reception from journalists after the game, the coach admitted that it was hard to motivate his team for another friendly.
“In the first 15 minutes we played very slowly,” he admitted. “Several players showed no sharpness or aggression. Again I understood that it’s hard to get players to achieve full commitment in a friendly match.”
Although he said he was happy that the team recovered to create “seven or eight chances” he also said that there had been a lack of desire among his players.
“Before the game we had a team meeting where we agreed we would give everything in every game, without exception, to avoid a repeat of [the 1-0 defeat against] Iran,” he said. “However, it took some of the players a long time to work this out and we were already into the game.”
The Dutch supremo has been widely criticized for relying too heavily on a select group of players, seemingly regardless of their form.
But he made changes for this friendly, some voluntary, others enforced.
And that meant debuts for goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov, striker Alexei Ionov, full back Yevgeny Makeyev and midfielder Denis Glushakov.
For Ryzhikov things could hardly have gone worse: left hopelessly exposed by yet more sluggish defending he was powerless to prevent Mohammed Kasola heading home Qatar’s goal on four minutes.
And he had the woodwork to thank twice more in the opening 10 minutes, as Soria rattled the bar from another set piece before Yusef Akhmed hit the post.
Pavlyuchenko strikes back
After that dramatic wake-up call, Russia managed to raise their game to the point of competence, even if they were far from impressive against opponents ranked 77 places below them by FIFA.
Pavlyuchenko, pictured above, put the ball in the net once, but an offside flag ensured that the goal-drought lasted until the 34th minute when the Spurs striker finally got a legitimate strike past the unconvincing Mubarak.
But far from kicking on to win the game, Advocaat’s side failed to assert themselves before or after half time.
While there were chances for Russia – and one particularly elegant cross-field ball from Denis Torbinsky almost presented Pavlyuchenko with a second, only for a good save to be rendered irrelevant by another offside decision – the hosts also looked capable of grabbing a winner for themselves.
And with a three-month wait until the team’s next outing, at home to Armenia in a Euro 2012 qualifier, Advocaat has little prospect of appeasing his critics any time soon.
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