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Euro defeat wrecks Russia’s ebullient mood

It's a terrible comedown for many Russians, whose national mood have soared as their hitherto underdog team storms to a series of unexpected triumphs over the past two weeks.

sports Updated: Jun 27, 2008 22:34 IST
Fred Weir

Commentators ranging from President Dmitri Medvedev to many average Russians, who were promoting the Russian football team as a metaphor for the country's stunning return from national oblivion, suffered a major blow on Thursday night after its team lost to Spain in the Euro 2008 finals.

It's a terrible comedown for many Russians, whose national mood had soared as their hitherto underdog football team stormed to a series of unexpected triumphs over the past two weeks.

“The past couple of decades have been perceived by our citizens as a chain of failures,” says Sergei Mikheyev, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.

“Now we're winning, and it's an enormous boost for social morale.”

Following a crushing victory over the Netherlands last Saturday, as many as 700,000 Muscovites poured into the streets of the Russian capital chanting “Rossiya — champion”, and other jubilant slogans in what the official RIA-Novosti agency called the biggest spontaneous street demonstration Moscow has seen since the USSR defeated Nazi Germany in World War Two.

Medvedev called it “an outstanding game and a convincing victory,” and suggested that the team's Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, who is widely credited in the turnaround, might be granted honorary Russian citizenship.

In a reflection of the bubbly national mood, the company licensed to make Russian flags, the Moscow-based BIAR, reported that sales of the white-blue-red national tri-colour soared to a record 100,000 in June, up from a usual monthly average of 20,000.

The last time Russia was in a European football championship was in 1988 when it was still the USSR. In the 1990s, widely viewed by Russians as a decade of national depression and disgrace, most of the country's best athletes went abroad to find success.

But lately, Russia has been on a roll, and its politicians are capitalizing on these successes. Former President Vladimir Putin managed to win the 2014 Winter Olympics for Sochi, Russia's Black Sea resort centre.

Russians are in a state of shock after their most victorious football team in almost 40 years was crushed in the Euro 2008 finals in a dramatic head-to-head match with Spain on Thursday night.

“I was absolutely sure we'd win, what a dreadful defeat,” said Tatiana Marchuk, a desolate Moscow fan after Spain's stunning 3-0 win over the Russian national team in Vienna.