Football: Russian media gloat over Leeds' defeat

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The Independent Online
SPARTAK MOSCOW yesterday won wide praise in Russia for overcoming Leeds United in the first leg of the Uefa Cup third-round tie played in Sofia on Thursday, a victory made all the sweeter for the huge row that broke out between the two sides the week before the match.

The Spartak officials bitterly attacked Leeds after the original match, due to have been played in Moscow last week, was postponed after a cold snap made the Dynamo Stadium pitch unplayable.

Spartak, a goal down after only 14 minutes on Thursday, came back to win as Alexander Schirko and the Brazilian Luis Robson struck.

"Schirko and Robson threw the English face down into the mud," blared the daily newspaper Soviet Sport in a headline, using a play on words as the Russian for face sounds like Leeds.

"Spartak tamed the English thoroughbreds," said Sport-Express, adding that the victory made up for what it said was the worst season in Russian football history.

The national team failed to qualify for the Euro 2000 finals and several of the country's leading clubs have suffered huge defeats in Europe, including Locomotiv Moscow, who Leeds beat 7-1 on aggregate in the last round. Even Spartak are only in the Uefa Cup after being eliminated from the Champions' League.

"Goodbye, until we meet you in England, Mr O'Leary," Soviet Sport said.

David O'Leary's youthful side dominated the opening half-hour but were left hanging on at the end of a match in which they badly missed the suspended Lucas Radebe and the injured David Batty.

Oleg Romantsev, the Spartak coach, made scathing comments about Leeds and O'Leary before, during and after last week's postponement, and the words had the desired effect on his players. They performed with a passion with which Leeds were unable to cope and the Yorkshire club are lucky not to be heading into next week's second leg at Elland Road trailing by more than one goal.

However, the hard-to-please Romantsev did not join in the general rejoicing. "If you take the game, especially the second half, there is no satisfaction whatsoever," he said, regretting that his team had wasted several good scoring opportunities.

For his part, O'Leary was not overly depressed by the result. "All round we know that as a team we can play better. If you look at the age of the team we had out there - with eight players aged 22 and under - it's very young and very inexperienced side.

"They are learning, but I'm worried because we've got such a hectic schedule over the next few weeks and we haven't got a big enough squad to cope with all those demands.

"We can't do great all the time, but we try to do our best, and I don't think 2-1 is a bad result by any means.

"Harry Kewell took his goal well. It was great anticipation. He knew their player was going to pass it back and he got on to it and tucked it in. He was unlucky with a header a few minutes earlier [which hit the crossbar] and he also could have scored at the other end in the second half.

"They then immediately go down the field and put the ball in the net - but that's how this game is on occasions.

"They're a good team, with plenty of experience in Europe and they made us look ordinary at times, but this tie is far from over.

"We got the away goal, which will hopefully stand us in good stead. As for how they will play against us in the second leg, I've no idea. All I do know is we've got to score goals."