Russia Beat Slovakia In A Tale Of Two Midfielders

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - OCTOBER 07: Juraj Kucka of Slovakia battles with Roman Sirokov of Russia during the EURO 2012, Group B qualifier between Slovakia and Russia at the MSK Zilina stadium on October 7, 2011 in Bratislava, Slovakia. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Eastern European expert Eliot Rothwell runs through Russia's 1-0 win over Slovakia and some strange comments made by Zenit midfielder Roman Shirokov.

Having only won one in six against Friday's opponents Slovakia, Russia's trip to Zilina was always going to be a difficult proposition. Having successfully managed to sneak past the Slovaks on the field through the competence of one midfielder, Russia scored a cataclysmic own goal via another midfield player - this time using his often outspoken mouth. 

As Russia dominated the scrappy UEFA European Championship Group B qualifier, comparisons were drawn to the previous round of fixtures and the frustrating 0-0 draw with Gaelic foes the Republic of Ireland. Where Richard Dunne proved the human equivalent of the great wall of China in Moscow, Slovakia 'keeper Jan Mucha was doing his acrobatic best to ensure, Gandalf style, that the ball shall not pass. 

And then, 71 minutes in, the first of this tale's two midfielders came to prominence. Alan Dzagoev, CSKA Moscow's young and sometimes entirely laboured midfielder, found some space, sharply turned, and drove the ball goalwards - with the aid of a deflection. The sliding belly flop, the mass pile on and the ecstatic screams of the Russian commentator told you the game was up for Slovakia, and Russia had cemented their hold on the top spot in Group B. Sitting two points ahead of Ireland and three points ahead of Armenia with one game left against the pointless Andorra, Russia should really have enough to comfortably go through - especially as Ireland and Armenia face each other in the next round of fixtures. 

Although, aside from the position that the Russians find themselves in, manager Dick Advocaat, facing some criticism recently for the style of play and a failure to blood young players (England and Capello, anyone?), came out armed with a defiant tone against the assorted post-match journalists. "It was a tactical win. Moreover, we looked better in both games, are you going to argue with that?" If "tactical" means being inefficient, unentertaining but getting the job done through a lucky deflected goal then I'm right with you Dick......

The manager, however, wasn't the only member of the Russian camp to say some strange things after the victory in Zilina. And this is where the tale's other midfielder comes in. Roman Shirokov, Zenit's talented but often outspoken midfielder, who has enjoyed a resurgence in form of late - with goals in Zenit's Champions League win over Porto - made some unsavoury comments about the Slovakian team and this week's opposition Andorra. Asked the fairly standard and regimented question about confidence for the next game, Shirokov snapped: "Who do you think we are? You thought we would come here and not beat this village team? And that one [Andorra] is even worse. Of course we will beat them." So, just to clarify, Shirokov's idea of a village team is a team who his Russian side had failed to beat on six occasions prior to Friday's match and had beaten Russia to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. It would be interesting if Andorra beat Russia, as - at least by Shirokov's logic - Andorra are worse than village team Slovakia. That probably makes them a hamlet team. 

This isn't the only time that Shirokov's mouth has gotten him into issues with the media in recent weeks. Again seemingly caught in his own contradictions, Shirokov used the Russian slang term for homosexual, associated with the colour blue ("goluboy" in Russian), to insult referee Sergey Karasev who was wearing a blue referee's kit for Zenit's match with Rubin. Interestingly enough, and rather showing the Zenit midfielder's own stupidity, Zenit's home kit is the same colour as the blue that the referee was wearing. And Sergey Karasev happens to be married with children. 

So however Russia now fare against Andorra on Tuesday, the media and certainly this column are going to have eyes on the two midfielders that combine to make up this tale. One needs to continue his good form and finally fulfil his promise, the other needs to start doing his talking on pitch. 

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