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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Romantsev aims for knockouts
Oleg Romantsev
Romantsev dislikes making public pronouncements

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Oleg Romantsev is an enigma.

He has been managing Spartak Moscow for the past 13 years, during which time his teams have won 10 league titles.

He led the national team to Euro 96 and then resigned, before returning after the 1998 World Cup.

Open Quote
It's just a struggle being with the national team and I want to work, not struggle
Close Quote
Oleg Romantsev

The qualifying campaign for Euro 2000 got off to the worst possible start with three successive defeats, including a 1-0 reverse in Iceland.

But the Russians recovered, and even beat France, the world champions, 3-2 in the Stade de France before going out because of a home draw with rivals and neighbours Ukraine in the final match.

Despite plenty of opposition at home, he kept his job and vowed that the national team would not be making the same mistake again.

He promised qualification for this summer's World Cup and was as good as his word.

He chose his players carefully and wisely. Vladimir Beschastnyckh may have been sitting on the bench for Racing Santander, but he scored seven times in 10 qualifying games for Russia and is now back at Spartak.

Goalkeeper Ruslan Nigmatullin was another ever-present, conceding just five goals as Russia topped the group ahead of Slovenia.

Celta Vigo's Valeri Karpin and Aleksander Mostovoi were others around whom Romantsev built a new and formidable national team.

Despite this success, he is not a universally popular man. He even threatened to resign having achieved his goal.

"It's just a struggle being with the national team and I want to work, not struggle," the coach said after one in a series of rows with federation officials.

Romantsev factfile
PERSONAL
Born: 04/01/54
Birthplace: Siberia, Russia

PLAYING CAREER
Club level: 1971-83
International level: 10 caps for the Soviet Union

COACHING CAREER
1984: Coaches at third division Krasnaya Presnya in Moscow
1988: Moves to Orzhonkhidze Spartak
1989: Appointed as Konstantin Beskov's successor at Spartak Moscow
1995: Becomes head coach of the Russian team as well as managing Spartak
1996: Leaves the national team post
1999: Takes over as Russia coach again

Well-known for his dislike of public appearances, he failed to turn up for the 2002 finals' draw, where the Russians were drawn in group H with Japan, Belgium and Tunisia.

"He (Romantsev) often complains that the Russian team isn't well perceived in the West, but how should they treat us if our national team's head coach turns down Western media at every opportunity," a Russian federation official said at the time.

Last year, he ordered the players not to talk to Russian journalists for two months after what he perceived was biased media coverage of the qualifier against Yugoslavia.

Perhaps it is this outward reticence, if not downright suspicion, that has prevented the Russian people from taking the coach to their hearts.

Whatever, it is doubtful whether Romantsev would care. Everything he does is focused firmly on keeping his private life private and his team properly focused on a common goal.

"You have to play for the team," he said in a rare moment of illumination.

"If everyone starts playing his own game, we won't succeed.

"Clearly, we're far from being the best team in the world right now and we have been given a task of making it into the second round," he said.

"It is our minimum goal. It's a question of psychology. If you win that first game, the players become more relaxed and will have a better chance to play their best in their next match.

"And vice-versa. If you lose the opener, then the next game becomes all or nothing, which puts extra pressure on the players and could hinder them in showing all their skills.

"That's why it's important to win the first one, then the next game might become a little bit easier."

Not everyone in Russia thinks Romantsev is a great coach, but no one can diminish his contribution to the development of Russian football nor his commitment to achieving success with the national team.

Like him or loathe him, he nevertheless deserves your respect.

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GROUP H
  P GD PTS
JAPAN 3 +3 7
BELGIUM 3 +1 5
RUSSIA 3 0 3
TUNISIA 3 -4 1

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