In its banner headline yesterday, Russia's mass-circulation Sport Express lamented Lokomotiv Moscow's performance in its loss to Hapoel Tel Aviv on Tuesday. "The team that beat Real Madrid, Anderlecht and Tirol Innsbruck was easy prey for Hapoel Tel Aviv."
"The Lokomotiv Moscow manager is not Jewish and Tuesday night was not the Sabbath, but it did appear that several Loko players had been forbidden from engaging in work," according to the Sport Express opinion column.
The paper's chief sports writer, Konstantin Kleschev, wrote that in light of Lokomotiv's poor performance, the players did not deserve the support of the 12,000 fans who braved the cold to cheer on the team.
"Time after time, our teams prove that they do not know how to play in the winter," he wrote. "We do not have suitable pitches and the fact that they play throughout the winter in Europe adversely affects our teams' performances. And if they don't know how to handle the winter, perhaps they shouldn't be playing in the UEFA Cup at all?"
Sport Express also pointed out that this has Russia's worst-ever season in European competition, with all six of the country's teams now out of the running.
"Under normal circumstances, with or without a full squad of players, Lokomotiv should have beaten Hapoel," the paper wrote. "There is no comparison between Hapoel and Loko's opponents in the Champions League, but the Israeli side is a very stable outfit which is able, unlike Russian teams, to play above itself when the occasion demands. Even a mediocre team needs to be able to raise its game. Hapoel did just that; Lokomotiv did not."
Hapoel Tel Aviv's Slovenian striker, Milan Osterc, was described by Sport Express as "the evil genius of Russian soccer." Osterc's two goals against Lokomotiv, one in Tel Aviv and a second in Tuesday's game in Russia, were instrumental in seeing the Reds through to the competition's final 16.
Lokomotiv manager Yuri Simon repeated his assessment of Hapoel Tel Aviv as a "well-organized team, highly disciplined, excellent in defense and dangerous on the counter-attack. Their tactics saw off Chelsea [in the second round] as well as Lokomotiv, and they have a world-class striker in Osterc."
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