Russia's pass-the-armband sums up problems ahead of World Cup
By Ed Dove
TOULOUSE (Reuters) - The sight of Russian players passing around the captain's armband after Roman Shirokov went off early in the second half spoke volumes about their performance at Euro 2016.
Shirokov was substituted in the 52nd minute of the embarrassing 3-0 capitulation to Wales but nobody appeared to want to replace him as captain.
The armband was initially handed to Sergei Ignashevich, but he did not put it on, and eventually it found its way back to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev who half-heartedly accepted it.
That moment was one of several low points in an abject Russian performance which raised serious questions about their ability to present a competitive team when the country hosts the 2018 World Cup.
After the game, coach Leonid Slutski throw in the towel as he accepted responsibility for the failure and said that he needed to be replaced.
Russia had already performed poorly against England, when they scraped an ill-deserved 1-1 draw, and in the 2-1 defeat to Slovakia, but here they hit a new low.
Slutski made several changes to the midfield, attempting to give it more punch, but that only played into Wales' hands as it left the Russians open to devastating counter-attacks led by Gareth Bale.
Wales raced to a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes with both goals coming from breakaways after the Russians lost the ball inside the Welsh halfway.
Vasili Berezutski and Ignashevich, their two centre-backs with a combined age of 70, were left badly exposed on countless occasions and Wales could easily have added to their tally before Bale finally scored the third in the 67th minute.
All but one of Russia's squad play their club football at home and Berezutski said they needed to go abroad to be exposed to a higher standard.
"We must develop players and change how football works," he said. "Players do need to move to Europe. The fact that we all play in the Russian league means we all have certain limitations compared to foreign players."
Offering a frank assessment, he said the current squad was as good as it was going to get. "We don't have any better players, these are the best 23," he said. "All we can say is Russian football is not at best level, we need to change something."
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Nice; editing by John Irish)