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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
The alternative guide to Russia

What do we really know about the 16 nations taking part in Euro 2004?

From their footballing pedigree to their favourite food, find out about the countries heading to Portugal.

Footballing legend:

Russia goalkeeper Lev Yashin
Yashin: Swapped stick for sticks

Considering the USSR used to cover just about half the globe, there is a surprising lack of contenders.

Not many players were given the chance to develop their skills abroad but some did emerge to make their mark on world football.

None more so than Lev Yashin, the brilliant goalkeeper who is regarded by many as the best number one ever.

He almost quit to take up ice hockey after struggling in the early stages of his career but fortunately managed to stick it out.

Dish of the day:

They like a bit of luxury in the new Russia

Strange combination of poverty and luxury.

The images on western television news during the 70s and 80s all too often showed huge food queues to try and illustrate the folly of communism.

You know the sort of thing - hardy women in shawls waiting patiently all day for a loaf of bread and enough cabbage to make a bowl of soup.

Yet Russia is the home of caviar - sturgeon's eggs that have somehow become one of the world's most expensive foods.

And then there is vodka - surely Russia's great gift to the world.

A powerhouse of a drink that takes the breath away and leaves one spreadeagled in the corner of an alley mumbling incoherently if consumption is not closely controlled. Marvellous.

National treasures:

National treasures move in and out of vogue in Russia at remarkable speed.

One minute statues are being erected all over the country to honour Stalin.

Streets, towns and cities are renamed in his honour and posters show his face gazing paternally down over squares and parks all over Russia.

Then he dies and the places are renamed after someone else, the posters are ripped down and people suddenly forget about the leader they once revered. Look out for Putin Place in years to come.

Eurovision pedigree:

Tatu - Cheekier than the cheeky girls

Russia's 2003 entry was Tatu's Ne Ver, Ne Bojsia.

The pair took All The Things She Said to number one across the world, but in their case, actions spoke louder than words.

The female duo had a party trick - kissing each other on stage while wearing schoolgirl uniforms and gazing longingly into each other's eyes.

Needless to say the whole thing caused a massive kerfuffle, but it certainly beats Johnny Logan.

National dress:

Hats that look like dead animals. In fact they usually are.

It gets a little bit chilly in Russia during the winter, but they have worked out that animal skins strategically placed on the head do a fine job of keeping out the cold.

Of course, if you take a trip to Stamford Bridge these days you might get the impression your average Russian wears made-to-measure suits from Savile Row.

Magic moment:

Russia won the inaugural championships in 1960 - their most prestigious honour in football.

In fact throughout the 60s and 70s the Soviet Union consistently produced excellent teams.

Alas, since the break up of the USSR, leaving Russia to fend for themselves without the aid of footballing hot-beds like the Ukraine, the fortunes of the national team have dwindled to the point where Wales can give them a game.

Alexei Mikhailichenko
CIS - ooh, scary

Nightmare moment:

Strange one this but the nightmare moment here may well take the form of an identity crisis.

In 1992, Russia and various other former Soviet states were still trying to come to terms with who they were and what to do with themselves.

Hence at the European Championship that year there was a team by the name of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Hardly sending the fear of God through the western world as the USSR once did, CIS finished bottom of their group and were thrashed 3-0 by Scotland.

It doesn't get much worse than that.

Links to more Russia stories



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