Advocaat has all to lose
Dutchman knows defeat would leave him on edge
YOU'RE the manager of a team picked from a population of 140 million people and you lose at home to a country of just five million. At home. In a game you're expected to win. Easily. And you lose.
Could things get any worse? Well if you lose to a team with a population that's even smaller than that.
It's not easy being Dick at times like this, but Russia's coach Dick Advocaat has been through all this before and back again. He's managed the national teams of five different countries so if he's in any way fazed by the prospect of facing a group of players from Hull City, Stoke City and Derby County, then he's not showing it at all.
The 62-year-old Dutchman has been through the highs and lows. Many of those emotions came in his battles with Irish teams in the past -- the high of a win at the World Cup finals in the oppressive heat of Florida at USA '94.
There was a potential low when the Advocaat-led Glasgow Rangers side played Shelbourne in the early rounds of the UEFA Cup in 1998, Shels taking an astonishing 3-0 lead in the game only to lose 5-3, much to the relief of Advocaat.
And there was the real low of a 1-0 defeat to Ireland in a friendly game in Amsterdam, 10 years after his win in Orlando.
That friendly was meant to be a party, a fond farewell, the Dutch side playing their last home game before the finals of Euro 2004. But an Irish side containing players like Alan Maybury, Alan Quinn, Graham Barrett and Clinton Morrison spoiled the party, forcing the Dutch players -- managed by Advocaat -- to trudge around the stadium, performing football's equivalent of the walk of shame.
If Advocaat thought he knew pressure that night, he should wait to get a digest of the Russian papers from tomorrow if his side happen to lose to Ireland tonight, as defeat at home to Slovakia last month has made this a vital game for the Russians.
"There is pressure," he says. "There is always pressure in qualification games. So we know the importance of this game, that means winning or a draw, but we cannot lose.
"I was disappointed with the result against Slovakia last month but I was not disappointed with the commitment of the team. I still think that the players are in better form, players are more regular in their teams, so I have a much better feeling.
"We have showed in the past that this team can play football.
"Before when we played Slovakia, the commitment was from the whole team. The big problem was that not everybody brought their best form, and I have a feeling that some players are in a better shape than they were against Slovakia, and one of them is (Chelsea's) Yuri Zhirkov.
"We lost 1-0 in Slovakia, I know that, but I also know that only one team played on the night -- us. But football throws up moments like that, where you have possession and possession, chance after chance but your opponent gets one chance, scores and wins.
"In football, victory is impossible without a goal." Say that last phrase with an Italian accent and it could have easily come from the mouth of our own Giovanni Trapattoni, so it's no wonder that Advocaat is a fan of the 71-year-old from Milan.
"In his career he has won everything a manager can win, Trapattoni is a great manager," Advocaat says.
"It's impossible to say what makes him successful, it depends on a lot of things but he has what it takes."
Cool as he may be, Advocaat is not without his issues. A press conference in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium yesterday ended on a strange note, a fairly tame question getting Advocaat a touch unsettled. The question was that, if two players had been called in to replace the injured Spurs man Roman Pavlyuchenko, did he do the work of two men. "You always try to provoke me," Advocaat quipped at his questioner, the former Rangers man possibly unaware that the treatment of managers in this part of the world by sections of the press included their heads being turned into a turnip (Graham Taylor) and Kermit the Frog (Steve Staunton).
He has bigger things to worry about, such as the lack of game time offered to some of his key players like Zhirkov who, at a price of €22million must be the most expensive reserve defender in the game.
"It's always difficult when you are not playing regularly for your club, it's a good thing for us that in the last few weeks he has played two or three games," said Advocaat.
"We saw against Bulgaria that it was not his best performance, but now he looks more sharp and fit than before," said Advocaat, who has another problem of too many games for other players, especially the Zenit St Petersburg contingent.
"The Zenit players were in the preliminary rounds of the Champions League and the Europa League, so they started early and have already played a lot of games. We also saw in the World Cup in South Africa, the majority of the players who played there are tired or injured. Some players need more rest sometimes," he said.
The Russian press have been at times cool to Advocaat, partly as he's not loved as much as his predecessor Guus Hiddink.
Win tonight and he will be a hero to those 140 million Russians. Lose, and that flight to Macedonia on Sunday will be a long, lonely one.