Russia’s 3-0 loss to Wales and exit from Euro 2016 prompted angry reactions from officials and sardonic headlines and memes.
Despite the team’s heartfelt apologies, most were quick to blame the players, arguing they lacked international experience and motivation.
The goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, whose quick hands prevented the Wales match from being even more of a train wreck for his side, and several other players went over to the Russian fans’ section at the end of the match to apologise for their performance.
The coach, Leonid Slutsky, admitted he had failed, saying: “I’d like to apologise to the fans that we couldn’t show character, will and mastery. When you lose in every respect, it’s hard to single out one thing. Everything was lacking … I think the coach definitely needs to be changed and what else is a question for the [Russian Football Union].”
The sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, said he was not opposed to Slutsky staying and said Russia needed to admit that it did not have any “players of the highest level”. The defender Vasili Berezutski, whose dramatic late goal to hold England provided their high point of the tournament, said more Russian footballers need to go to Europe to play.
“We’ve had the best coaches in the world, and they couldn’t do anything with our players,” said the MP Dmitry Svishchev, who heads the sport committee in parliament, calling for the team to dismiss everyone and start with a blank slate.
Soon after the match, the internet was already taking jabs at the team. “These weren’t our footballers. You can buy that uniform in any store,” read one meme, referencing Vladimir Putin’s famous denial that the unmarked troops who seized Crimea in 2014 were Russian soldiers, despite the obvious resemblance. At least four Russian newspapers declared the team “Tou-losers” in their headlines.
The Communist Party of Russia said on its official Twitter account that the team was as “soft” as the ruling United Russia party and “for internal use” only. “We need a Stalinist mobilisation. Mental, physical hard strength,” it said.“Why does the national team perform like this, when 11 millionaires are running around the field with half-bent legs, who want to earn a lot and don’t want to work like a real athlete should,” the Communist MP and party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, said.
Some Russians, like a man in Magnitogorsk who put his television up for sale immediately after the loss, argued Soviet footballers were better because they played for national pride rather than money.
The MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist LDPR party, declared that Wales won because they are nationalists who had been oppressed by the English. He suggested Russia recruit players from the areas in eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists. “They’ll win any championship. We need people who are pissed off. And namely with a national motive,” he said.
Leonid Fedun, owner of Spartak Moscow, pointed out that Gareth Bale, who signed for Real Madrid for €100m in 2013, was worth several times more than the entire Russian team. “How much could you sell our team for? Twenty million probably. If anyone would buy it,” he said.
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