By Pavle Gognidze
Russia are facing up to the play-offs after being denied a place in Portugal by Switzerland.
A 3-1 win against Georgia at the Lokomotiv stadium in Moscow was enough to confirm Russia as Group 10 runners-up, but with Switzerland winning 2-0 at home against the Republic of Ireland, coach Georgi Yartsev was denied a place in the finals of UEFA EURO 2004™. Their hopes now rest on a two-legged play-off against Wales.
Dmitri Bulykin, scorer of Russia's first goal on Saturday - his fourth in two games - spoke for many Russians when he said: "The win is always a good thing. We honestly did our job. But we could not do anything about what happened in Basel. There is a bitter aftertaste now."
"I am disappointed," said FC Spartak Moskva captain Yegor Titov, who scored Russia's second on Saturday. "
I was almost sure that the Irish would not lose to Switzerland, and that we would qualify directly."
Yartsev, who has transformed Russia's fortunes in his three games in charge, was frustrated too. Having drawn in Ireland and then won convincingly against Switzerland and Georgia with a team featuring Russia's strongest and most experienced players, he was perhaps hoping for better.
"I have thanked the players for the decent job they have done in this period," he said. "We've worked hard and played those three games in a way that will make the fans believe in us. But I must stress that this does not solve the task. The play-offs will show us where we are and whether we can move on."
With Saturday's victory proving something of an anti-climax, memories of two key defeats under Yartsev's predecessor, Valeri Gazzaev, have been reawakened. "
We lost to Georgia and Albania, and now we're paying for that by having to play in the play-offs," said FC Dinamo Moskva striker Bulykin.
Football Union of Russia (RFU) president Vyacheslav Koloskov had come under pressure for appointing Gazzaev, as the PFC CSKA Moskva coach had disappointed many in Russia with his persistence in ignoring the likes of RC Celta de Vigo captain Aleksandr Mostovoi. However, the president stood by his decision.
"If I was a prophet I might have taken another decision [on the coach] in the first place," said Koloskov. "But remember how happy we were when we beat Ireland at the start of the campaign, how confident we were then? It's hard to guess in those sort of circumstances, so I don't regret appointing Gazzaev."
The RFU president maintained that he never lost faith in his side, even though they had some dreadful results towards the end of Gazzaev's spell in charge. However, he did make a veiled reference to the former coach's habit of fielding inexperienced players and experimental lineups for qualifying games.
"I did believe in us throughout the campaign," said Koloskov. "That's why I kept saying the national team is not a place for experiment. Especially when they bear no fruit."
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