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    In his first column for RIA Novosti, Zenit St. Petersburg and Russia midfielder Roman Shirokov discusses the country’s qualification for the Euro 2012 finals.

    In his first column for RIA Novosti, Zenit St. Petersburg and Russia midfielder Roman Shirokov discusses the country’s qualification for the Euro 2012 finals.

    So, the cull for Euro 2012 is over.

    In spite of public opinion, we have made the finals of the tournament by qualifying in first place, however much some people would have liked to have seen us fail.

    If we analyze the qualifying campaign, it has to be recognized that we thoroughly deserved to win the group: It was only with Slovakia that we shared the points, we beat everybody else. Moreover, no team managed to outplay us on the park, and that’s especially important.

    Perhaps our game wasn’t magical, but to be honest only three teams in Europe are showing that kind of play – Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. So in that sense we have something to aim for.

    But anyway, in all the matches with our group rivals we were superior; no-one can convince me otherwise, even in the defeat to Slovakia. The only thing we should recognize is that during the campaign we gave a poor showing in the friendlies, that can’t be denied, and there was nothing we could take from those games. It’s unclear even to us why that was the case: We seemed to be in a good frame of mind, but nevertheless we fell short. It gives us reason to do some pondering and find some answers, especially in light of the fact that the main preparations for the tournament are built around friendly matches this year and next.

    Some of the comments from the press and revered analysts on the results of the campaign were really surprising! Sure, they have all played football themselves; know exactly what should be done; have taken part in top-level matches; and played in World Cup finals. How can we compete with them?

    Perhaps that’s the reason they focus the attention of the fans and public exclusively on the negative things. According to their expert opinion, we always play poorly!

    Everyone has the right to their own opinion, that’s not in dispute. But it begs the question: How then are we scoring goals, controlling possession, creating chances? How are we, at the end of the day, top of the group after 10 games? It’s not like some one-off friendly match against Qatar, it’s a long tournament.

    Again, we’ve had to listen over and over to comments about our allegedly weak defense, but then how have we conceded the fewest goals in the group? Luck? Or some other reason? It should be pointed out to the experts and analysts that in 10 games we let in just four goals. And those goals came from a dubious penalty, a set piece after a foul, and our own defensive mistakes. That is to say, our opponents managed to score once from open play. And who was that? The Armenians, who had a fantastic campaign and were worthy of a playoff spot.

    Moreover, it shouldn’t be forgotten that we generally avoided dropping silly points, except to the Slovaks right at the start, and we made up for that fairly comfortably, albeit with a minimal away victory.

    The key moments of the campaign were the away games in Ireland and Macedonia; matches in which we collected six crucial points. Even the most venomous critics admitted the game in Dublin was a success and compared it with the famous match against the Netherlands.

    Those two positive games were also noteworthy for our assured defensive performance (however much some would hate to admit it), our desire to play the kind of passing football that imposes our game and keeps the match under our control, and a decent showing against our top rivals: We collected points where we should have, and snatched them from opponents who put up a real fight.

    Even before the campaign, after the draw, we said that we should qualify in first place. We’ve achieved that goal. Now in our path are the long preparations for the Euro 2012 finals. I read that Rooney, Sneijder and Ozil are all aiming to win the tournament. How strange to think that any of these footballers would aim for anything else.

    Shirokov contributed this column to RIA Novosti in Russian. The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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