McClaren under fire from media after Moscow flop

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LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) There was no hiding place for England manager Steve McClaren and his players as today's newspapers pulled no punches with their angry reaction to a 2-1 defeat in Moscow the previous night.

''Kick Him Into Touch'' demanded the Sun's front page headline with McClaren's head squashed inside a rugby ball -- a reference to England's rugby team who will play in the World Cup final against South Africa on Saturday.

The Sun's back page said it was ''Iron Curtains'' for McClaren while an editorial inside said ''England's pampered footie stars snatched defeat from the jaws of victory -- and let down the nation yet again''.

England had been winning 1-0 and on course for qualification for next year's Euro 2008 finals but Russia scored twice within four minutes in the second half to turn the match around.

If Russia beat Israel and Andorra in their last two matches they will qualify at the expense of England.

''Plastic Bullet'' read the Daily Mirror's back page with a photograph of England's Wayne Rooney conceding the penalty for Russia's equaliser on Moscow's artificial surface.

It said England's hopes of qualifying, and McClaren's job, are now ''hanging by a thread''.

''Nyet Mare'' continued the Mirror on its inside pages, adding that England had been ''torpedoed'' by Russian sub, that being Roman Pavlyuchenko who scored both his country's goals after coming off the bench.

The Daily Mail described the penalty decision as shocking but said McClaren was the ''real villain''. Inside it said ''Game's Up For You Now, Mac'', saying that McClaren's world had disintegrated around him in four second-half minutes.

It said that he had been outwitted by Russia coach Guus Hiddink and blamed McClaren for sticking by goalkeeper Paul Robinson who was partly to blame for Russia's second goal.

One Daily Mail columnist went even further, cranking up the numerous military references by suggesting McClaren ''had despatched a battalion of gallant Englishmen to their inevitable slaughter in the old Soviet heartland''.

The broadsheets were just as damning of England. ''Moscow Mauling'' said the Daily Telegraph, adding that McClaren's credibility was ''in tatters''.

While Russia's penalty was harsh, McClaren's tactics were criticised in many quarters. The Telegraph said he had got in wrong in the 2-0 defeat in Croatia last year and was again to blame on Wednesday for playing too defensive after going 1-0 up.

The Telegraph also makes the point that should Hiddink guide Russia to Austria and Switzerland, the Football Association wil have paid the price for overlooking the Dutchman when selecting a successor to Sven-Goran Eriksson.

REUTERS BJR ND1512

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