They have come out fighting – again – but Russian football chiefs are battling to deal with another blow to their suitability to host next summer’s World Cup.
Less than a year before the tournament kicks off there, claims have emerged that their entire squad for the 2014 competition were involved in state-sponsored doping.
All 23 players on the Russia team that crashed out at the group stage three years ago in Brazil are reportedly being looked at as part of a broader scandal.
Russian deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko – the man who claimed the country has already cleaned up racism and hooliganism – has gone on a similar offensive over the doping claims.
“There have never been and will never be any problems with doping in our football,” he said. “Our team are permanently being tested, they undergo doping tests after every match.
“They have written some sort of nonsense. Don’t bother reading the English newspapers in the morning.”
FIFA, however, are carrying on with their investigation into the McLaren report which claims at least 30 sports, including football, covered up samples involving more than 1,000 athletes between 2011 and 2015.
So far, the organisation insist, nobody from the World Cup has returned a positive test,
But, a spokesman said: “FIFA has simply confirmed that, in close collaboration with Wada [World Anti-Doping Agency], it is still investigating the allegations involving football players in the so-called McLaren report.
“However, FIFA did not refer to any particular players, since it cannot comment on the status of ongoing investigations.”
The FA were staying tight-lipped about the matter on Sunday night as they wait for the outcome of FIFA’s investigations.
For the Russians, however, the latest controversy follows several others for the country within sport.
Most of their track-and-field team was banned from last year’s Olympics in Rio over doping. Their entire Paralympics squad was also excluded. The spectre of doping also lingered over their 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Claims of bribery persist.
In addition, few are convinced that the Russians have the hooliganism issue, which threatens to flare up next summer, under control.
Five of the players from the 2014 squad are in the team that have been competing at this week’s Confederations Cup there. Russia were eliminated on Saturday, after losing to Mexico.
FIFA added: “As far as the FIFA Confederations Cup is concerned, every participating player has been tested through blood and urine in unannounced controls.
“Both the results of the unannounced and the post-match tests have been negative so far.”