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Oct 13, 2005

Russia wake up to latest World Cup flop

MOSCOW, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Russia woke up on Thursday with a soccer-related hangover following another disappointing showing in a World Cup qualifying campaign.

'Auf Wiedersehen!' splashed popular daily, Sovietsky Sport, on its front-page after Russia failed to reach next year's finals in Germany following a 0-0 draw against Slovakia in Bratislava in their final qualifier on Wednesday.

'We didn't reach Berlin. Slovaks stopped Russian players,' echoed Rossiiskaya newspaper alluding to the victorious Russian soldiers who captured the Nazi capital to end World War Two.

Some of the Russian media sarcastically highlighted the street battles in Bratislava before and after the match.

'3-2 in our favour,' said one headline in reference to the seriously injured Russian and Slovak fans.

Slovak police detained 37 Russian supporters, although all but five were soon released.

As Slovakia celebrated the point which put the nation on the brink of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time, Russians began some serious soul-searching.

'Enough is enough,' was the verdict of daily Sport-Express.

'Soccer bosses, players, head and assistant coaches have all come and gone, but in the end the result was still the same: we failed to advance even from such a weak qualifying group as ours. Will someone ever take responsibility for all this?'

Russia have had four different managers in the last 3-1/2 years but none were very successful.

BIGGEST MISTAKE

Russian soccer chief Vitaly Mutko, who replaced long-serving president of the Russian Football Union Vyacheslav Koloskov in April, blamed his predecessor.

'How was it possible that we had to play the deciding match away to our rivals?' a furious Mutko told Russian media.

'Who permitted to have such a schedule in the first place?' Mutko hinted that Russia coach Yuri Syomin, who replaced Georgy Yartsev midway through the qualifying campaign, should stay in the job and try to re-build the team.

'As far as I see it, the problem was not our last match in Bratislava but rather our first qualifier (a 1-1 draw against the same opponents in Moscow) last September,' Mutko said.

'We started our qualifying campaign on the wrong foot and we never recovered. That draw in Moscow was our biggest strategic mistake.'

Wednesday's draw was the latest in a series of disappointing performances by Russia in major international competition since the Soviet break-up.

The Russians missed the 1998 World Cup finals in France and Euro 2000. Although Russia qualified for the 2002 World Cup finals, in Japan and South Korea, they failed to progress from one of the easiest first-round groups. At last year's Euro finals in Portugal, Russia were the first team to be eliminated.

Russia captain Alexei Smertin summed up the team's feelings.

'We tried as hard as we could but still it wasn't good enough but as always life goes on and we'll be back,' he said.