England's slip provokes icy reaction in Moscow

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The Independent Football

The first item on a half-time television news broadcast during the Russian coverage of the England v Croatia game had Vladimir Putin's voice telling a stadium full of patriotic Russians waving their national flag – "We need victory and nothing else!"

But this was nothing to do with the football – it was an address from earlier in the day to political supporters, calling for victory for the United Russia party in next week's elections.

Indeed, it was almost forgotten that Russia still had a chance of qualifying for Euro 2008. In contrast to the endless media coverage before Saturday's game in Israel, both of last night's matches had been written off as foregone conclusions.

But Leonid Fedun, the owner of Spartak Moscow, offered the Croatian goalkeeper, who plays for his side, and the three best outfield players a Mercedes if they pulled off a shock win. But after the defeat in Israel, nobody really expected England to gift the Russians a passage to Austria and Switzerland.

Even the Russia manager, Guus Hiddink, said: "It's now practically impossible for us to take second place in the group."

When the unbelievable happened, there was no dancing in the streets of Moscow. With the temperature at minus six degrees and the match ending close to 1am, only the hardiest fans went to sports bars.

"Do you know the score in the football?" asked the slightly inebriated Azerbaijani taxi driver who drove me home after the game. I told him Croatia had won 3-2. "Bullshit," he said. "You're having a laugh."

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