Some people believe that if there’s something you really want in this world, you should simply buy it.
These people are generally described as Russians.
Yet the utter humiliation, annihilation, desecration of Russia by Spain at Euro 2008 makes one wonder what it is about the Russian psyche that not even a Dutch coach who bears a passable resemblance to Stalin could cure.
You knew it might not be the Russians’ night because, firstly, these are the finals of a major tournament and Russia have been conspicuous in their ability to embarrass themselves at these events even more than the drunken father of an ugly bride who has somehow managed to marry money.
And secondly, well, these are the Russians. Famed for rattling sabres, banging shoes at the United Nations and beating up on the little people.
Oh, someone has to say it. Russia historically does not have a great record of defeating anybody of greater or equal strength to itself.
Crush a bunch of pushy Poles, a few cheery Chechens, or a smattering of slovenly Slovaks.
But take care of even a demi-semi superpower of football (or anything else) like Spain? Ah, then the self-doubt creeps up like the ivy on the walls of a deserted dacha.
When as a nation you’ve miscalculated against the Afghans, your footballing representatives take a look at a Spanish team containing at least four players whose name they recognize and make like a jelly-shelled tortoise.
It’s true that Russian club sides have begun to win the most minor of European trophies- and I must check to see how they did in the UEFA Fair Play League- but they have flung their roubles around to tempt assorted Brazilians and other strangers to tolerate the Russian winters and mustachioed lady shop assistants.
The national side, however, is full of the tall, the pale and the frail. Mentally speaking.
Today, the Russian defense was more open than an oligarch’s mouth at feeding time (at the lap dancing club).
They waddled around with all the purpose of a nylon shirt in a blizzard.
They gave their opponents so much green grass that Cesc Fabregas could have set up his own collective farm and raised hairless dogs and goats. And lady shop assistants.
The question has to be asked: what are the Russians afraid of?
In the days when the players weren’t paid much, there was an assumption that the Russians (as well as many other teams from the lands they sequestered by mallet) threw games.
Well, they needed to eat.
Now, with the munificence of the good and the gracious like Roman Abramovich, money is not an excuse.
Perhaps, though, it is a burden. For instead of being paid to lose, a relatively simple and pressureless task (especially when one thinks one is not good enough in the first place), the Russian players are now being paid to win, to bring pride to their Motherland.
They seem to be on a Hiddink to nothing.
In having to face Sweden (oh, they went to war with Russia once. The result was that the Russians lost a lot of sailors and gained Finland. You decide whether they won) and Greece, perhaps they are in an easy group.
But if you are a betting person, would you place your last dollar or drachma on those frightened eyes, those strangely wizened bodies and those shoulders tighter than Nicole Kidman’s lips?
Neither would I, Doctor.
The Pond thanks jpockele for his beautiful capture of a Russian dwarf hamster.