Russia in need of key win -- and an atlas
WHATEVER about their footballing abilities, geography is not one of the strong points of the Russian side that takes on Ireland in Dublin tonight.
Perhaps they are getting their own back for our own ignorance -- how many people have talked about tonight's match as being a rematch of Ireland v Russia from the 1970s when most of those USSR teams were packed with Ukrainians? -- but the Russians were at it again last night.
"We know what to expect here, Ireland are a typically British team," Dinamo Moscow midfielder Igor Semshov said after the squad's training session in Lansdowne Road last night.
He wasn't the first. Earlier in the week his team-mate Alexander Kerzhakov was asked about his memories of Dublin from Russia's last visit here, for a Euro 2004 qualifier in 2003. "I didn't get to see very much, just from the window of the team bus on the way to the stadium but it looked like a typical, ordinary British city," said Kerzhakov.
Geography and history's not a specialist subject of the Russian media either -- Zenit St Petersburg man Kerzhakov was also asked by his local paper if the fact that his club won a big game (UEFA Cup final) in a 'British city' (Manchester) was a good omen for this game in Dublin. For what died the sons of Roisin, the late Luke Kelly -- a renowned football man and also an ex-Home Farm player --might ask.
Other players offered their views on the Irish style of play ("a real British way", according to one) and of course Guinness ("a crazy beer", in the words of German-based striker Pavel Pogrebnyak earlier in the week). No stereotypes there, lads.
But the initial comment from Semshov was about as much communication we got from the Russian camp last night.
A batch of Irish, English and Russian journalists had done a tour of the lanes and tunnels under the Lansdowne Road stadium, hoping to speak to the Russian players after their training session, especially their British-based men Andrei Arshavin, Yuri Zhirkov or Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, but each of them ignored the pleas from the men with microphones and cameras.
Hopes of a lengthy and friendly chin-wag in English with Arshavin about the physical demands of the English league were dashed as Arhsvain and his friends all shook their heads and headed for the team bus, leaving veteran Semshov -- at 32, the second-oldest player in the squad and one of the most experienced with 46 caps -- as the sole Russian willing to speak to the media, and his interview with a Russian TV station lasted for a total of 78 seconds.
"We can't do any more talking, we just have to go out on the field and get a result," said Semshov, a substitute when Russia beat Ireland 4-2 in Moscow eight years ago.
"This is our third game in the group, we have already had a poor result against Slovakia so we cannot afford another one. We will have a full stadium tonight, a great pitch, so we will see who is stronger at the end of 90 minutes."
Posmotrim -- as they say in Moscow.