Parting Thoughts On Euro 2012

So yesterday morning I was sitting at the bar with my homies, in a Russian sailor vest and with a big Russian flag draped round our table. It was 0-0. Whatever. Russia had mounted several good attacks, and was bound to score eventually, and even if it didn’t, as long as the Poland – Czech game remained drawn there was nothing to worry about. Russia would remain first in its group and wouldn’t even have to face off against the Teutons in the quarter finals. As the 2 minutes added time ticked down, I took my eyes off the screen, readying to order my second Shocktop (good thing about the Euro? One can legitimately start drinking from the morning). Then a blunder from Ignashevich sent the ball straight into the path of the Greek captain Karagounis, who got a clear shot straight into the Russian goal.

Now that I’ve calmed down a bit from the disappointment, and looking at things objectively, I do not think the Russian team played particularly badly – as was commonly argued by enraged Russian fans calling for Fursenko’s head. They made several strong attacks in the second half, hitting the bars twice, and a header from Dzagoev came close too. They had 70% possession, more attacks, and were tactically superior. The most impressive Greek effort came from Karagounis, who dived in the penalty box and got a yellow card for his trouble. While several commentators argued the Greeks should have gotten a penalty, on closer inspection of the video its clear to me that the Swedish ref made the right call.

Then the Czechs scored. This was fast becoming a catastrophe. At first, I wasn’t overly concerned because I was under the impression that goal difference took preeminence over face to face results. Only by the 75th minute did I discover my mistake; UEFA apparently no longer operated by FIFA rules in this regard. If Russia lost to Greece, it was out. And then, it was out for real, as a last ditch Russian kick went wildly overhead.

It’s a pity, and I don’t only say this because I was rooting for Russia. I agree with Owen Polley that Russia had the most entertaining play after Spain, and that the Greek side was “dreary and negative” (the Spaniards who knocked out Russia in 2008 were at least fun and elegant). And this disappointed a lot of people besides myself; Russia seems to have been everyone’s “dark horse” candidate (i.e., not Spain or Germany) to win the tournament. The only consolation I suppose is that the Poles didn’t go through, what with their hooligan attacks on Russian fans. I will now switch my support to Ukraine – though chances are, I’m sorry to say, it will be knocked out by a mediocre but nonetheless superior English team the day after tomorrow – and to Greece, for the elementary reason that if it manages to eke out further wins then Russia’s loss won’t look quite as dreadful in comparison.


  1. Russia should have made it to the quarter finals at the very least, it’s not some insignificant country it’s the greatest european country dammit!
    But seriously yeah they played quite well so that was kind of a surprise and a letdown. I wonder wether Russians really have a passion for football, in soviet times the national team wasn’t fanatastic too. Certainly not as much as Brazilians. May be the public and the kids pay too much attention to hockey which is only interesting to some caribous, USians and tiny arctic nations…

    Russia has six more years to ramp up its team, anything short of a victory at home during the World Cup would be a disgrace!

    • There are two big problems as I see it:

      (1) Ice hockey takes up a lot of energy and indeed, Russia to ice hockey is like Brazil to football.

      (2) A very big disadvantage is that during winter, football practice becomes much harder in Russia and has to take place indoors which is not the same. Same goes for other countries such as Scandinavia, Ukraine, Poland, etc. It seems that all the best teams either come from semi-tropical (e.g. Brazil), Mediterranean (e.g. Spain, Italy), or temperate (e.g. Germany) climes.

      • Yes, climate is of great importance. It’s no coincidence that there are no Siberian teams in the Russian First Division. It’s the same pattern here in Sweden. No good football teams from the North, but they have several good hockey teams.

        The Soviet national team is underrated. They were world class (top 5) in 1960s as well as 1980s, especially late 80s. But they just never manage to succeed in the World Cup. In 1988 they were in Euro-final and won the Olympics against a strong Brazilian team (with Bebeto, Romario).

  2. Yeah, it was a truly heartbreaking exit from EURO12. Russia really had the potential to do something big this time. Don’t know when they will have such a opportunity again.

    You should get the facts right, though. It wasn’t Zhirkov’s mistake but Ignashevich who missed to mark the throw, and Dzagoev with a late dangerous header (from Arshavin’s cross).

    I agree that UEFA rules are questionable. They also invite to situations were both teams can advance with a particular result. Like Spain-Croatia (2-2) vs Italy.

    • Was the Greece support a joke??? No one can possibly support Greece in football except the Greeks themselves. I am looking forward to see them thoroughly shattered by a vastly superior Germany.

    • Thanks for the corrections! My memory got hazy, it seems…

      I agree that the Greek team is depressive, but I do have a policy of supporting teams that beat Russia for aforementioned reasons. 🙂

      • As a Greek I am afraid I also agree with the view that the Greek team was dreary. Bluntly I think the gods smiled on us to give us something however small to cheer about. Unfair on Russia which was surely the better team.

        One question that has always puzzled me is why Russia, which has a long tradition of being very strong at sports (including team sports) and where football is as popular as it is never shines as it should in international football competitions. Is it something to do with the way the game is organised? Russia produces many outstanding players so I cannot think that innate ability or its absence is the problem.

        • Alex, I don’t think “fairness” has anything to do with it. More like bad luck, plus while I argue the Russian team doesn’t deserve the bile that’s been directed towards it by fans I do think they could have given a bit more effort in their last 2 games with the Poles and Greeks.

          But congratulations! As I said, Greece is now the second team I support.

          Why are Russians worse at football than could perhaps be expected? Discussed above with SH.

  3. Pity. But Russia had a very verying performance before the tournament – win over Italy and draw with Lithuannia… it was clear that the team doesn’t perform consistently at the similar level and and all it took was one unlucky game. Maybe they were just too old – I heard that Russia player age-wise was the oldest team of Euro.

  4. On paper it looked like a very strong team, and they had an impressive record under Advocaat before this tournament, so I don’t think it was a problem of player quality.

    The reason why there’s been such vitriol directed at this team by the Russian fans is that they proved they can play, and then bottled it when it really mattered. And when they lost, they didn’t have the decency to walk over to their fans, who had travelled a long way and paid a lot of money to see them.

    England in the past have also had this problem. Under Fabio Capello, they played brilliantly in the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, and on paper looked like they had a good chance. But when push came to shove, they were shit.

    I think this mental weakness of Advocaat’s Russia and Capello’s England was partly down to their being managed by a foreigner who didn’t speak their language (or spoke it badly). How many World Cup winning teams were managed by foreigners who didn’t speak their language? I haven’t looked this up, but I’m sure it’s none. Hiddink’s a bit different – he has a knack of turning very poor teams into quite good teams.

    On the good side, the jokes about Kerzhakov have been quite funny –

    • I agree with everything.

      As regards jokes (on Russian team’s out flight delay): “Сборная 90 минут не могла попасть в самолет.”

  5. Leon Lentz says:

    I see at least 2 major problems with the Russian football team:
    1. Attitude
    2. Psychological readiness.
    The coach, Advokaat, has the same problems, he is greedy and doesn’t give a damn about anything but money. Arshavin reflects this quite well, when he said that he got the premium pay already, so he isn’t that upset over the loss to Greece. Scum like Arshavin shouldn’t be in our team. He also played really badly in the last 2 games. Psychologically, the Russian team is weak, they have no stamina, and that’s exactly what was the advantage of Soviet team in 1952-1960 when we got the Olympic gold in 1956 and the European championship (European Cup) in 1960.

  6. Owen Polley says:

    I suspect you’re right about Ukraine. The tournament would benefit from the hosts continued involvement, but as much as I dislike England’s ‘Hodgeball’ and admire some of Ukraine’s technical play, that team has seen better days.

  7. Leon Lentz says:

    All of the arguments defending Russian bad performance apparently did not apply to the USSR’s brilliant victories in 1956-1960. There was still ice and snow, a lot more back then, much less money paid to footballers, much worse fields, and yet Olympic Gold and Euro Cup. Sweden with the weather uniformly cold, without Black Sea resorts, got Silver in 1958 World Cup. And that is from the country 32 times smaller populationwise than the USSR and 16 times smaller than Russia.. The problem is attitude and psychological weakness of Russian players, they have nothing to fight for, they have lots of money, assured future and they don’t give a damn about Russia, the fans and the opinion of their countrymen.