June 20, 2004 by AK
The number one sports event in Europe this year is the soccer championship. The Russian national team has unimpressively lost two games and will not advance to the quarterfinals. Most of its members are decent players, but there are no signs of a team strategy, or tactics, or spirit. Speaking roughtly, there is no team, only a gathering of players. Some attribute this to the players’ lack of patriotism, claiming they can only be motivated by pecuniary rewards. (This brings to mind Kafelnikov, who exhausted himself by playing virtually non-stop, missing no tournament–and eventually earning over $20 million, not counting advertising revenues.) Others point out a coach needs to spend a few years on shaping a team–look at Greece for one–and if there is a no suitable candidate at home, there are plenty elsewhere.
In general, Russians have done well in non-team sports–tennis, figure skating, gymnastics–since 1991, and much worse in the team games the most popular within the country, soccer and hockey.
Now compare the Russians with the Latvian team, who have just drawn 0-0 a match agaist Germany. (Not to lose to Germans is considered a mark of honor and class.) None of the Latvians is a soccer star. Also, most of them are Russophone, and it is commonly assumed that Russophone Latvians are not prone to excessive patriotism, given the ethnocentric nature of the new Latvian state. However, this miltiethnic team is an embodiment of team-ness.
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