Russia's players blamed themselves after their 2-1 defeat in Israel, with Dutch coach Guus Hiddink cursing his side's naivety on "a night of disappointment".
Hiddink hinted that the weight of expectation on his players might have undermined his side. "Tonight is a night of disappointment," he said. "There were a lot of conversations about how easily we should beat Israel, but our defensive mistakes could not have come at a worse time. The first goal was really stupid - I can't understand how could we make a mistake in such situation. The substitutions helped us after the break but the episode when [Dmitri Sychev] hit the post was a crunch moment."
Defeat left Russia third in Group E, needing a win against Andorra on Wednesday combined with an England defeat at home against Croatia to reach UEFA EURO 2008™. "It did not happen," wrote popular Russian sports website sports.ru. "After failing in Israel, Russia have almost lost their chance to go to the finals. As usual for us, everything was tragic and awkward. Now it's our turn to believe in miracles."
Russian Football Union president Vitali Mutko was not impressed with the national team's showing at the Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel-Aviv, saying: "We didn't have that winning spirit. Of course I will support the boys, but we played a poor match. The result disappointed everyone. There should be no talk about Israel being goaded into playing by England. We only have ourselves to blame."
'It really hurts'
Captain Andrei Arshavin said his side gave everything as they battled for a winner in the final 30 minutes, only to go down to Omer Golan's added-time strike. "You can see that we wanted to win and we attacked a lot," he said. "We did not deserve a defeat. After we equalised we had to open up and go forward. It really hurts."
Hiddink now hopes that Croatia, who have already qualified, will show the same level of commitment against England as Israel did against his own side. "We must be realistic - we did not have that many chances to score," he said. "We did not outplay Israel. We played against a young team but we were very naïve. We expect Croatia to give England a good game. We expect that, despite everything, they will play for victory and get it."
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