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Jartcev out of the wilderness

Not many believed Georgy Jartcev could turn around the fortunes of the struggling Russian side when he took over from Valery Gazzayev in late August 2003.

The Russians were languishing in third place in Euro 2004 qualifying Group 10, five points behind leaders Switzerland and three behind Ireland, with three games remaining.

But just over a month later, Jartcev steered Russia to two wins and a draw in their final three matches to set up that memorable playoff against Wales.

To many, including Jartcev himself, his appointment as national coach came as a big surprise.

'I hesitated a bit because the situation around the team was at a critical point,' said Jartcev, 55, who had been out of coaching since leaving struggling Rotor Volgograd more than three years ago.

'But I still believed there was a chance... and somehow we could find a way out of the crisis.'

He recalled several veterans, including Alexander Mostovoi, Yegor Titov and Dmitry Alenichev, most of whom had been dropped by his predecessor following Russia's dismal showing at the 2002 World Cup.

'I was relying on the players I had known for years,' said Jartcev, who installed Titov and Alenichev along with other youngsters in Spartak Moscow's first team in 1996 and guided them to the Russian title in his debut season.

Jartcev also found a place for newcomer Dmitry Bulykin and the burly Dynamo Moscow striker, playing only his second international, responded by scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Switzerland.

Jartcev was also prepared to vary the team's tactics, from conservative against Ireland in Dublin to all-out attack for the next two home matches.

But above all, Jartcev improved morale, instilling confidence in his players and bringing back the fans, who have given the team their unequivocal support.

In an instant, he became the media's darling.

The charismatic coach was hailed as a national saviour by the very same Russian press who for over a year had insisted on the necessity of hiring a foreign manager for the team.