RUSSIA (Group A)
The Russian Football Federation was formed in 1912 and its greatest moment came in 1960 when, under the guise of the USSR, the national team won the inaugural European Championship in France. Russia is currently ranked 29th in the world by FIFA and qualified for Portugal via the play-offs after finishing second to Switzerland in Group 10.After narrowly beating Wales, the team is currently embroiled in controversy, defender Titov having failed a drug test. Coach Georgi Yartsev still heavily relies on 35-year-old Celta de Vigo star Mostovoi, who once played for Benfica, but the recent discovery of Dynamo Moscow striker Dmitri Bulykin, who marked his debut with a hat-trick against Switzerland, have extended his attacking options. Porto midfielder Alenitchev can also make a valuable contribution to a somewhat limited team.
Drawn against hosts Portugal, plus Spain and Greece, Russia face a daunting task at the Euro 2004 championship. It is hard to see them progressing past the group stage, and the likelihood is that the team will be humming the Beatles classic Back to the USSR along to the roar of the jet engines as they take off from Faro airport.
RUSSIAN FACTS – Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Russia is still geographically the largest country in the world, its 17.1 million kilometres extending from the Ural mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. Its population of 148 million is concentrated in the big cities, with large tracts of Siberia virtually uninhabited. The famed Red Square in the centre of the capital, Moscow, is not named after the former communist regime, or the mainly red tiles used in its construction, but after the Russian word for red, ‘krasnaja’, which is also synonymous with ‘beautiful’ or ‘principal’. An amazing 10 per cent of total government revenue comes from the sale of the country’s national drink, vodka – a tipple that ex-president Boris Yeltsin was particularly fond of.
An optimistic Kremlin has announced that President Putin will visit the Algarve in June to support the Russian team who play two group games in the new Faro/Loulé stadium. It has not yet been revealed whether he will attend the game against Greece or Spain.
Meanwhile, a UEFA disciplinary committee will decide this week what action to take in the Titov doping case. Wales have pleaded to replace the Russians at the tournament, but a disqualification looks highly unlikely.
• The police unions ASPP and PSP have announced they will stage nation-wide protests during the Euro 2004 championship if the government continues to refuse to address the problems facing the force. National Police Federation President Alberto Torres has appealed to Jorge Sampaio to have an open ear to security issues.
GRIDIRON: Superbowl XXXVIII
Last Sunday night the Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, staged America’s annual football jamboree. Odds-on favourites, the New England Patriots, who were champions in 2002, and on a 14-game unbeaten run, took on the Carolina Panthers, rank outsiders, who never the less managed to overcome Philadelphia, Green Bay, St Louis, Seattle and the Dallas Cowboys on the way to the final.
Quarterbacks are the pivotal point of the game of American Football, and the ‘David Beckham’ of the NFL is Tom Brady, 26-year-old star of the Patriots. Carolina’s opposite number, Jake Delhomme, came from the European Leagues via the New Orleans Saints, where he spent six seasons, and is a relative unknown.
This year, the half-time interval, part of the whole package beamed into 1.2 billion homes worldwide, featured high-profile pop stars such as Janet Jackson, who had her right breast exposed in a publicity stunt with Justin Timberlake. There was also a spectacle that will have made Sepp Blatter’s mouth water:top models disputing a short game clad only in lingerie! As to the game proper, the show continued as underdogs Carolina Panthers took the game to the wire – a dramatic field goal 10 seconds from the end evoking memories of Jonny Wilkinson’s historic kick Down Under, finally giving the New England Patriots a last gasp 32-29 victory. Hollywood scriptwriters could not have done a better job.
A QUESTION OF football
Last week:Who is the world’s most capped goalkeeper?
This week:In which country is the African Nations Cup being held at the moment? (answer next week)