Football: Pressure on Spain's coach

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The Independent Online
JAVIER CLEMENTE said he has no intention of resigning as Spain's coach despite his side's dismal 3-2 defeat away to Cyprus in their European Championship qualifying Group Six match.

"The idea is to carry on working calmly and prepare for the next game, which is still a month away." Clemente said after Saturday's setback.

Clemente, who survived calls for his resignation after Spain's unexpected first-round exit at the World Cup in France, knows the knives will be out once more in the wake of the Cyprus debacle, which saw Spain outfought and outplayed by their modest hosts.

Cyprus were 2-0 ahead inside 48 minutes, Panayiotis Engomitis and Sinica Gogic scoring either side of half-time, and kept their shape after a goal from Raul, the Real Madrid striker, threatened to inspire a comeback from Spain. They went 3-1 ahead thanks to a superb header from Milenko Spoljaric and although Fernando Morientes gave Spain hope with six minutes to go the Cypriots held on.

For the moment, Clemente has the support of the Spanish football federation, which says it will honour the remaining two years of his contract, but that backing will be tested to the limit if Spain continue to perform badly on such a grand scale.

The omens for Russia's first encounter with Ukraine, their fellow former Soviet republic, were never good and Saturday's 3-2 defeat suggested a squad in as deep a crisis as the country's economy.

The collapsing rouble ensnared the Russian team even as they prepared to travel for the Group Four match. Only the arrival of an armoured car laden with hard cash persuaded the Moscow airport authorities to fuel their charter plane and let them fly to Kiev.

"Players cannot help but be worried and to some extent distracted by what's going on in the country," Russia's new Ukrainian-born coach, Anatoly Byshovets, said, praising the way his makeshift foreign legion hung on after the Chelsea goalkeeper Dimitri Kharine was sent off.

Ukraine's Prime Minister, Valery Pustovoitenko, who also heads their football federation, was among 82,000 passionate fans who watched their side take the ragged Russians apart, going 2-0 up inside 25 minutes and only narrowly failing on a number of occasions to turn the evening into a total rout.

Unheralded Iceland confirmed on Saturday what the world has suspected, that France lack an effective strike force despite winning the World Cup. The world champions failed to shine in their opening Group Four qualifier, drawing 1-1 with Iceland in Reykjavik, a result which will raise the hopes of both Ukraine and Russia.

It also gave added firepower to France's detractors and vividly showed that the team desperately needs effective strikers.

"I cannot blame the players. They did what I was expecting from them tonight. But I must say that we were unlucky, particularly during the second half," said France's new coach, Roger Lemerre, who will find that blaming fate will find him few allies from a hostile French press.

Armenia predictably made short work of the group's minnows, Andorra, beating them 3-1 with Tigran Yesaian scoring twice in the Central stadium in Yerevan. The goal they gave away came from a late penalty.