As an England fan I’m not Fabio Capello’s biggest fan to say the least. After his latest outburst as coach of Russia however he has plummeted even lower in my estimations. His arrogance and that of his players to belittle Northern Ireland has astonished me and I am quite amazed it has not received more media coverage. Yes I am an England fan but I have lived in Northern Ireland for three years now and it’s safe to say these remarks from the Russia camp have not gone down well. Regardless of which country Capello and co were talking about it is disgraceful to talk about an opponent this way and shows a huge lack of respect and professionalism.
Ahead of the countries meeting in a World Cup Qualifier Fabio said in Moscow that he had "only two forwards.... but it's only Northern Ireland." I was very surprised with these comments from Capello as I watched many of his press conferences as England manager he did not strike me as the disrespectful type; this did seem uncharacteristic of him. Amazingly he didn’t deny or retract the comments as ‘lost in translation.’ If that wasn’t bewildering enough then it was even more of a surprise to hear that Russian forward Kerzhakov had reportedly told a press conference he had only recently been informed of Northern Ireland's existence.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill dismissed what Capello said: "I don't dwell on those things. Managers will have their opinions - it's our job to change those opinions with the display we put in." O’Neill showing dignity and not wanting to sink to Capello’s level, he could have easily reacted angrily to these comments but kept a cool head as he looked forward to the game. The Northern Irish public, as you can imagine expressed anger at the comments via social networking site Twitter and various blogs and reiterated their determination to get something from the game.
West Bromich Albion defender Gareth McAuley’s comments showed he was clearly annoyed by what was said by Kerzhakov in reference to only recently being made aware of Northern Ireland’s existence. "I have never heard of him either," said McAuley at a press conference on Thursday. "You can see what it is like here - he's probably not been outside the country much. I don't know what the schools are like. "We will see what he's got on the pitch."
Fabio Capello made several changes to his squad after the European Championships and Michael O’Neill, on the other hand, wants to write his name into the history books after securing a place in the group stages for his side since 1986. The Russian national team has dropped two places from 13th spot to 11th after a below par European Championships. The Euro 2008 semi-finalists crashed out of the tournament after suffering a 1-0 defeat in the last group stage game against Euro 2004 winners, Greece. Fans were hopeful that the comments from the Russian camp would fire up the team and do Michael O’Neill’s team talk for him. Russia were expected to win this game comfortably but they need to learn from other top nations with class and dignity to respect their opponents. You would never see this behaviour from the Spanish or the Germans.
Russia ran out two nil winners on the night with goals from Fayzulin and Shirokov either side of half time. They dominated the game with 69% possession but Northern Ireland defended well, marshalled by the returning Jonny Evans to restrict their chances in Moscow. Northern Ireland didn’t offer much in an attacking sense as Lafferty was isolated and frustrated up front. Northern Ireland weren’t expected to win this game and will look at future fixtures at Windsor Park to pick up the points. They were however hoping to have the last laugh following Capello’s comments but personally I feel without the comments that score line could have been much heavier, Northern Ireland performed in a more dogged fashion than in recent games. Fans are already looking forward to the return fixture with the hostile atmosphere at Windsor Park Russia could struggle. Michael O’Neill’s side will have to upset the odds, as they have done before against England (didn’t want to bring that up) and Spain. I for one and I’m sure many football fans alike will be hoping they can upset the odds and enjoy seeing the arrogant Capello in defeat.