A 1-0 defeat at FC Dinamo Bucuresti has left UEFA Cup holders PFC CSKA Moskva to contemplate an unseasonably early exit from the competition.
Valeri Gazzaev's men completed their Group F fixtures in Bucharest on Thursday night, and their only hope of progress is if SC Heerenveen fail to win their remaining game against PFC Levski Sofia and Dinamo lose away to section leaders Olympique de Marseille, also on Matchday 5.
CSKA's 2005 season has been extraordinary, as they scooped a famous treble of the 2004/05 UEFA Cup, the Russian Premier-Liga and the Russian Cup. However, it is understandable if this 2005/06 continental campaign proves to be beyond the Army Men - Thursday's tie was their 55th competitive match this year.
Nonetheless, Gazzaev was disappointed to lose to Dinamo, saying: "I believe the scoreline was unfair and my team did not deserve to lose." According to Russian daily Sport-Express, however, CSKA were struggling long before Vlad Munteanu's 72nd-minute goal.
"In the first half CSKA could only create chances from set-pieces," the paper said, while acknowledging that they improved after going behind. "CSKA peppered Vladimir Gayev's goal with shots but the Belarussian made an unbelievable save from Vágner Love and blocked Elvir Rahimić's shot."
'Stuck in a swamp'
Admittedly, the conditions were not easy for a side like CSKA, who thrive on neat passing and movement. Torrential rain in the Romanian capital had reduced the pitch to a quagmire. Sport-Express led its match report with the headline: "Stuck in a swamp."
"On the first wintry day of the year, the teams had to contend not only with each other, but also with a heavy pitch where it was much easier to destroy than create," wrote Sport-Express. "CSKA's shirts were so dirty that after 30 minutes of play, it was impossible to make out the numbers on the back."
Baton passed on
With so much going against them, Sovetski Sport was not unduly concerned by the prospect of CSKA's elimination from the competition. "CSKA have passed the baton on to the other Russian contenders [FC Lokomotiv Moskva and FC Zenit St. Petersburg]," the paper stated.
"Our champions have to conserve their energies to reach the next level in Europe," added Sovetski Sport. "They may yet have a UEFA Cup campaign to maintain their winning momentum but this could also be a hindrance as they look forward to next season's UEFA Champions League. You can't play well every season without a break."
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