Russia’s players have not been distracted by the fan violence that has brought a threat of disqualification from Euro 2016, coach Leonid Slutski said after another stuttering performance from his team on Wednesday.
“It has had no effect on the team,” Slutski said after Russia’s 2-1 defeat by Slovakia in Lille on Wednesday which leaves them now needing to beat Wales in their final Group B game to survive in the tournament.
Worryingly, with the threat of expulsion from this tournament hanging over the 2018 World Cup hosts, a flare went off among Russian fans after Denis Glushakov’s late strike gave them brief hope of salvaging a point.
But Slutski insisted he did not see it and refused to say if he was worried about a repeat of the fan violence in Marseille that marred Saturday’s 1-1 draw with England.
UEFA indicated that the flare incident did not constitute a “crowd disturbance” that might trigger the suspended penalty hanging over the Russian team since their supporters charged England fans at the Stade Velodrome.
Nonetheless, Russian fans were being monitored by a massive police presence in Lille after the game for fear of new clashes with English and Welsh supporters crowding the city ahead of their clash in the same group in nearby Lens on Thursday.
Slutski was clearly dissatisfied by another disjointed performance by his team and suggested that the line-up, unchanged from the England game, might well be altered for Monday’s decisive clash with Wales in Toulouse.
“Changes are quite possible,” Slutski told reporters, though he declined to criticise his misfiring forward trio of Aleksandr Kokorin, Artem Dzyuba and Fedor Smolov. “We have plenty of time for analysis and to assess our playing resources.”
Slutski said Marek Hamsik’s goal that put Slovakia 2-0 ahead at halftime was down to his defence’s lack of concentration in injury time.
Slovakia coach Jan Kozak said his side had worked on the short corner routine specifically to target a Russian defensive weakness they had spotted.
With Russia still having the chance of picking up four points in their group, Slutski said: “The situation in the group is pretty messy. Every team has a chance of reaching the knockout stage. The battle will go right to the end.”
Looking ahead to the Welsh game, he noted the threat from Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, their “two top-class players”.
For Kozak, whose side face England in Saint-Etienne on Monday, the prospect of following up their first win at a European Championship finals with qualification for the next round now appears realistic.
“Obviously England are the favourites,” he said. “But in football, the favourite doesn’t always win.”