Hiddink saddened by ex-Soviet state separation

WARSAW - Russia coach Guus Hiddink said he was saddened that UEFA had been forced to keep apart former Soviet states in the draw for the 2012 European championship qualifiers on Sunday.

"I'm a sportsman and it's always a pity when countries are separated for non-sporting reasons," the former Netherlands, South Korea and Australia coach told reporters after the draw.

"I'm not a politician. You have seen the recent situation where I worked in South Korea. They would desperately like to be with North Korea.

"With sports, you cannot do a lot but sometimes it can help."

European football's governing body decided before Sunday's draw that neighbours Russia and Georgia would be separated if they were drawn in the same group, as would Azerbaijan and Armenia, two more former Soviet republics.

UEFA had to enforce their ruling and move Armenia to Group B after they were drawn in Group A with Azerbaijan.

The two countries had refused to play each other during the 2008 European championship qualifiers.

Russia, who reached the semi-finals of Euro 2008 but missed out on this year's World Cup in South Africa under the Dutchman's leadership, were drawn in Group B along with Slovakia, Ireland, Macedonia, Armenia and Andorra.

Georgia were drawn in Group F.


Russia were among the top seeds in pot one for the draw, despite losing to Slovenia in November in a play-off for a place in South Africa.

"The fact that Russia is pot one means everyone can consider us as favourites, and you must not walk away from being favourites," said Hiddink.

"I'm not shutting my eyes to that failure; we cannot lean back just because we are favourites, no way."

The Dutchman was wary of facing Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland.

"I don't know him well but I know he's an old fox, he knows football and he's a very committed coach and I like that very much. What he's achieved with Ireland is amazing."

The Dutchman said Poland and Ukraine, who will co-host the tournament in 2012, would benefit and he hoped Russia, who are candidates for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, could emulate them by staging a major tournament.

"It's good to have the European championship in Poland and Ukraine, it's good for both countries and the development of football and infrastructure. It's good for the future.

"It would be good for Russia to have a big championship in the future as well to develop football."