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Russia wakes up with a headache to Olympic ice-hockey defeat

It was the middle of the night in Moscow when Russia`s ice-hockey players were swept off the ice by a rampant Canada at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

That didn`t stop fans all round the country staying up until the early hours to cheer on their side.

But after Russia failed to show anything like the form that won them the 2008 and 2009 world championships -losing 7-3 in a quarter-final clash with the hosts - many will be wishing they hadn`t.

"Nightmare in Vancouver," The Red Machine Runs into a Maple Tree," "Down and Out," were just some of the headlines on Thursday morning, as reports came in that many Russian fans who had planned to stay at the Games until the February 28 closing ceremony were leaving the host city in disgust.

"We wanted to play as well as we could, but things turned out...you know the rest yourselves...like always," Russian NHL star Alexander Ovechkin told the Sport Express paper.

The ice-hockey player was paraphrasing then premier Viktor Chernomyrdin`s famous early 1990s quote that "We hoped for the best, but things turned out like they always do."

While the politician was commenting on failed economic reforms, the phrase quickly passed into everyday Russian vernacular, and is often used to sum the country`s sporting disappointments.

And the Winter Games have been disappointing indeed for Russia, with only 13 medals won - three golds, four silvers and six bronzes.

"What happened on the ice today is just symbolic of the whole Games for Russia," Muscovite fan Mariya told RIA Novosti from Canada.

"We are really upset that out team didn`t demonstrate the right frame of mind," supporter Maxim said, adding that he was heading to the airport to change his ticket for the next flight to Moscow.

Thursday`s defeat to Canada was the second major blow that Russian sport, which had been experiencing its most successful post-Soviet period, has had to endure in the last four months.

In November, the national soccer side, surprise semi-finalists at Euro 2008, failed to make this summer`s World Cup finals, losing in a play-off to tiny Slovenia.

That defeat saw unproven accusations that the players had been out drinking and partying on the eve of the first-leg in Moscow, and even allegations by certain MPs that the team had thrown the game.

The ice-hockey catastrophe has already seen similar claims of misbehavior, and more look set to follow.

But Russia`s coach Vyacheslav Bykov was furious when asked about reports that the players had been seen at "social events" in the days leading up to the match.

`Don`t look for something that isn`t there," he said, as quoted by the Sovetski Sport paper. "You`ve already had a go at the footballers. The guys prepared seriously for the game."

"Let`s get the guillotine or the gallows out, yeah?" he went on. "We have 35 people in the squad, let`s cut them all up on Red Square..."

Things are unlikely to go that far, but Russia`s ice-hockey players are assured a frosty reception when they return to snowbound Moscow.

"Everything was done for the side," Russia`s Olympic press chief said. "Their slightest whim was catered to They only lacked breakfast in bed, and they could have had that if they had asked."

"They proved they couldn`t play against real professionals," he added.

For Ovechkin, the reaction to the defeat was not a surprise.

"We are going to get a lot of stick now from the media and from people who know nothing about ice-hockey," he said. "To those who love us and supported us, I`d like to say - we tried and did the best we could..."

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