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Embattled Russian Sports Minister Criticizes Soccer Team's Performance


Russia's coach Leonid Slutsky reacts during a Euro 2016 preliminary round match between Russia and Slovakia

The head of Russia's soccer federation has criticized the players on the national team for a lack of talent and desire after their poor performance in the European Championship.

The criticism from Vitaly Mutko follows Russia’s 0-3 loss to Wales on June 20 that eliminated Russia from the tournament.

Mutko, who is also Russia's sports minister, said the team’s last place finish in Group B -- with defeats to Wales and Slovakia -- "shows the real level of our football" ahead of hosting the World Cup in 2018.

Mutko told the state-run news agency TASS on June 21 that Russia doesn’t have “any top class players right now" and that "perhaps many lack the desire to grow, to move, to perfect themselves."

Mutko -- who has been implicated in allegations of an illegal, state-sanctioned doping program -- said Russia’s soccer program should focus on developing its young players and improving its domestic league.

Meanwhile, the team's coach, Leonid Slutsky, has said he should be replaced before the 2018 World Cup, which Russia is hosting.

"I failed to fulfill my duties," he said after Russia's defeat by Wales. "I believe that someone else should be training us for the more important tournament."

Slutsky had been told by Russian soccer authorities that he would have to choose between the national team and his club CSKA Moscow at the end of Euro 2016.

After Slutsky offered to resign, however, Mutko said no decision has been made on replacing him.

"Slutsky's reaction is understandable," Mutko said. "But we won't decide right now what's next and so let all of us calm down for the time being."

Mutko apologized to Russian fans for the team's poor performance at the championship and said, "I'm ready to take all the blame for this" because the team was not adequately trained before the games.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and TASS