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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Press Sees Defeat at World Cup as National Shame

For the first time in 20 years we are left out of the World Cup. We are the biggest country in Europe and among those countries where soccer is the No. 1 sport.

The relationship of millions of citizens to the game makes Russia a soccer country. For them, what happened is almost a tragedy. In past times people would most likely have said, after such games, labor productivity at industries and factories will fall. Now we can add: The interest in what is happening all around and faith in our capabilities has fallen.

Nikita Simonyan was the last coach who deprived our then still Soviet country of a world soccer championship. That was in 1977 before the finals in Argentina. On Saturday, [Russian chief coach] Boris Ignatiev left Russia out of the French '98 finals. If this had not happened to us, but to the Italians, in one voice, people would have accused the coach of being guilty. But Russia is a particular country. What for Westerners is axiomatic is for us still a big question.

Therefore there are no headlines in our papers like the ones that appeared in the Portuguese and Irish press, whose countries also did not go on to the finals. No one writes: "Ignatiev, you must step down because you have deprived us of soccer on a grand scale." And this is probably correct. It was not the fault of Ignatiev, although he is not without fault. What's unfortunate is that our national team turned out to be homeless and one that no one needs -- other than fans and perhaps journalists.

I had never been to Italy before. This is probably why I went there with some illusory hopes. After spending five days in Naples before the game, however, I understood that I couldn't count on anything. The journalistic expression about the Italians' religious devotion to soccer stopped being abstract. And the less time that was left until the match, the more clearly I realized that we would never be as crazy about soccer. This is not even because boys kick around the ball on the street from dawn to dusk, and not because everywhere -- in the press, in the parliament, in cafes and on the streets -- people spoke only of one thing: the match with Russia.

Italy remains a No. 1 soccer power, where the largest subsidies are invested in the sport and where many people who are done out of their fair share of fortune pray for the only thing they have in life. Italy has magnificent fields, fantastic training grounds and perfectly organized clubs.

Aside from popular love [for the sport], we have nothing. Our stadiums are pitiful to look at; our clubs exist only so that their bosses can prosper. Imagine for a minute that after building a modern miracle of a stadium the Italians forgot to repair the fields or that a television news program left out coverage of soccer. In Italy, this would be considered an insult to national dignity.

Mikhail Pukshansky

Sport Express, Nov. 18