If you were regular readers of my posts about Russia during the past couple of months, you will not be surprised to see them exit meekly at the group stage.
Firstly, it was clear that injured Roman Shirokov's absence would prove disastrous for the team. Without the only player capable of sending a quality through ball, Fabio Capello's side were desperately short of improvisation and it showed in each of their three games. Against Algeria and needing a winning goal with 30 minutes to go, Russia failed to create a single decent scoring opportunity. Alan Dzagoev could probably have been useful in Shirokov's position but Capello has never trusted him and thus he was always used as a late substitute, with minimal contribution. Still, Dzagoev played a major role in scoring the equaliser against the Koreans.
- Yokhin: Cautious Capello dooms Russia
Elsewhere, it was predicted that Russia would have problems with their full-backs, especially on the right side, where Aleksey Kozlov and Andrey Eschenko were both short of experience and international class. That proved to be decisive. Kozlov played a very good game against Belgium's Eden Hazard but had to be substituted for Eschenko and Hazard set up the winning goal.
Kozlov was dreadfully out of his depth against Algeria, making childish mistakes. He needlessly caught Islam Slimani by his shorts in the penalty area in the first half and Russia were extremely lucky not to concede a penalty. He then proceeded to lose the ball to Abdelmoumene Djabou in the second half, fouled him and gave away a dangerous free kick. Russia had problems defending dead ball situations throughout the tournament and this time Igor Akinfeev made a huge blunder, missing the ball completely and allowing Slimani to head home the equalising goal.
For Akinfeev, usually a very stable and confident keeper, this was a nightmare debut World Cup. He was responsible for that dreadful mistake which led to Korea's goal and gifted the Algerians the strike they needed to qualify. Overall, two out of three goals conceded by Russia can be blamed on the CSKA Moscow skipper. His surprise plight was a bad surprise for Capello, whose main concern was keeping a clean sheet in each game. Trying to score was deemed secondary and that's where we come to the man who must -- but will not -- take full responsibility for the failure.
Capello is guilty for Russia's fiasco in Brazil in so many ways; his safety-first strategy stifled the team.
In order to win while defending, you must have players who are able to kill off games, such as Daniele Massaro for AC Milan in the 1993-94 season when Capello won Serie A despite his side scoring just 36 goals in 34 games. Russia don't possess such quality strikers and Capello even benched the best of his options, Aleksandr Kerzhakov. The Zenit forward finally started against Algeria but incredibly, he was substituted with 10 minutes to go in favour of raw and mediocre Maksim Kanunnikov (who has scored just 13 goals in his entire career).
Capello made Russia players fearful and miserable. Instead of enjoying their first World Cup, they were afraid to look at their coach and scared of making mistakes. They should have thrashed fragile South Korea just like Algeria did but were sometimes afraid even to cross the halfway line. Akinfeev started wasting time against Algeria after 20 minutes, with Russia just 1-0 up. The were unable to fulfill their -- albeit limited -- potential, because they felt obligated to follow strict instructions, on and off the field. Even use of social networks was ruled out by the coach. "I don't like Twitter," the Italian said. So there was no Twitter, just silence in the camp.
Russia didn't even look assured taking on the most basic tasks, such as defending free kicks. They couldn't keep the ball and many just gave it away. In short, Russia quite bizarrely looked over-coached and under-coached at the same time.
Capello failed to find a leader and didn't even name his captain until two days before the first game of the tournament. He wanted to be the only star and his players readily admitted that in rare interviews. The Italian was the hero, having won everything in his illustrious career. All the rest were just tin soldiers who were not supposed to think for themselves. That was destructive in the extreme.
Capello is guilty because he overlooked players who could be of use. He discarded experienced right back Aleksandr Anyukov even though he is much better than Kozlov. He benched Yuri Zhirkov and Dzagoev and didn't include Russia Premier League top scorer Artyom Dzyuba in the squad, reportedly because he is too outspoken and cheerful. Under Capello, players are not allowed to smile. He never smiles himself.
Overall, Capello is guilty because Russia looked lifeless in Brazil. He drained life out of the team, just as he did in his previous job. England will never forget the goalless draw against Algeria at the 2010 World Cup. They were absolutely pathetic that day.
If Capello had any dignity, he would resign. Unfortunately for Russia, that is the last thing on his mind. He claims that Russia have improved under him because they didn't even qualify for the 2010 World Cup. All the FA chiefs already have declared that Capello has done an outstanding job.
They have a good reason to do so. They are the ones who signed him on an outrageous contract until 2018 with an annual salary that is higher than those of Alejandro Sabella, Oscar Tabarez, Miguel Herrera, Vahid Halilhozdic, Marc Wilmots, Fernando Santos, Jorge Luis Pinto, Reinaldo Rueda, Luis Fernando Suarez, Hong Myung-bo, Niko Kovac, Safet Susic, Stephen Keshi, Voker Finke, Sabri Lamouchi and James Appiah all combined!
Capello won't walk away. He intends to continue lifeless training camps for national team players for the next four years.
The future, therefore, looks very bleak.