Football: Kremlin gets tough with national failures

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The Independent Online
RUSSIA

The Kremlin's patience has snapped after Russia's failure to reach the World Cup finals for the first time in 20 years - and it now intends to play a bigger role in running football, Russia's sports minister said this week.

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was "terribly displeased and very angry" with Russia's 1-0 defeat in Italy last Saturday which ended their hopes of reaching the finals in France next year, the sports minister, Leonid Tyagachev, said.

"President Yeltsin was also displeased with the poor performance of Russia's players, who failed to show true Russian character," he added.

Chernomyrdin has ordered a meeting early next month with Russia's football federation to try to find answers to the game's problems. The state wanted more say in the way the game was run, he said.

The Russian Football Union's president, Vyacheslav Koloskov, responded angrily to the flak from above. "What Chernomyrdin said about the players, his angry words, his displeasure, were entirely unfair," he said yesterday. "His government hasn't spent a copeck on football since 1992, so what is he talking about?"

The coach of the national team, Boris Ignatiev, said he was ready to quit if told to - but added that he was too poor to walk out of his job.

"First, I've a contract with the federation," Ignatiev said. "Second, I've no offer of other work. And, third, I'm a poor man. If I'd a lot of money, maybe I'd hand in my notice now. But I can't willingly give up my job."

Ignatiev, who has managed to avoid the major player mutinies that marked the brief tenures of his predecessors, Oleg Romantsev and Pavel Sadirin, is under contract until next August.

portugal

Benfica's coach, Graeme Souness has had a dream start at the Lisbon giants. Two victories in two matches have helped Souness to forget his sacking by the Italian Serie B side, Torino, and lifted the hopes of the success-starved fans of the former European champions.

"On a wave of euphoria" was how the newspaper Record greeted the 3-0 defeat of the high-flying northern club Rio Ave in the Portuguese Cup last weekend. However, the former Liverpool and Southampton manager was not getting carried away. "We need to get better," Souness warned. "We are looking for a big improvement."

EL SALVADOR

Police and football officials in San Salvador said this week they are investigating claims that Salvadoran coaches and players were bribed prior to a 2-2 draw with Jamaica in November that helped the Caribbean team qualify for the World Cup finals.

A source at the Salvadoran football federation, who spoke on the condition he was not named, said: "A possible bribe of players and the coach is being investigated." He said there were claims that a Jamaican official had come to the country before the match, registered at a hotel under a false name and distributed bribes.

The president of the federation, Juan Torres, has dismissed the story as a fabrication, as has the accused Jamaican official, who is consulting his lawyers.

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