Moscow, Nov 23: The Russian team returned to a sombre reception today after securing a spot in the Euro 2008 finals as fans reflected on the improbable turn of events that led to qualification.
Only a handful of supporters and media greeted the players at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow as they walked past without making any comment.
Russia went through from their group courtesy of a laboured 1-0 win over tiny Andorra on Wednesday coupled with England's 3-2 home defeat by Croatia, who had already qualified.
''It was a shameful display,'' Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov told reporters as he led a chorus of disenchanted fans.
''We must say thank you to Croatia for pulling us out of oblivion and giving us a ticket to the finals.'' The soccer-loving mayor said his city government team would fare no worse than the highly paid Russian professionals against the mostly amateur Andorrans.
''I would like to invite Andorra's national team to Moscow and play against our government team. I don't think the score would be any worse than it was yesterday night,'' he said.
Russian media echoed the mayor. ''Croatia showed us how to play,'' wrote the Sport-Express daily in its editorial.
Millions of Russians were glued to their television screens for the game yesterday.
''It's hard to believe,'' said Andrei, a 20-year-old student at a local McDonald's restaurant, of Russia's good fortune. ''I couldn't bear watching them play,'' he added.