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Winning Ugly Isn't an Option for the Displeased Russians

June 06, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here is how Russia stands after the first round of games in Group H:

Undefeated, unscored upon, alone in first place ... and none too happy about it.

As expected, Russia defeated an outmanned Tunisia team in Kobe, Japan, on Wednesday, but struggled mightily in an unconvincing 2-0 victory. Tunisia, the weakest link in what is widely regarded as the weakest group in the tournament, held Russia scoreless for nearly an hour, yielded only one goal through the run of play and created enough quality scoring chances to leave the winning coach in a bad mood.

"It was a good game for the fans," Russia Coach Oleg Romantsev said, "but there will be reprimands for my players after the game.

"I'm dissatisfied with the way we played in our penalty area and in their penalty area. We cannot allow our opponents to create so many chances, and we created chances ourselves but did not finish them off."

After 58 minutes of frustration, Yegor Titov finally gave Russia the lead, courtesy of a distribution mistake by Tunisia goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel. A poor throw by Boumnijel was intercepted by Dmitry Sychev, who worked the ball to Titov for his successful strike from the edge of the box.

Six minutes later, Tunisia's Rahdi Jaidi was whistled for a foul on Sychev in his own penalty area. Valery Karpin converted the penalty kick and suddenly, Russia had a rather undeserved 2-0 advantage.

Tunisia forward Ziad Jaziri was far from impressed by Russia.

"Their physical presence is quite strong, but with our technical qualities we could pass through them," Jaziri said. "Their defense was very slow. It wasn't hard to dribble past them."

Russia leads Group H with three points, two ahead of Belgium and Japan, which played to a 2-2 draw on Tuesday. But clearly the Russians have work to do before their next match against Japan in Yokohama on Sunday--although Karpin, for one, didn't want to hear about it.

"I don't want to think about the next match," he said, exhausted from the humidity and the unexpected pressure applied by Tunisia. "I just need a break."

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