Russia's preparations for the European Championship have been dealt a major blow after Yegor Titov failed a drugs test in a playoff match against Wales.
The 27-year-old Spartak Moscow captain was given a 12-month ban by UEFA in January after testing positive for the banned stimulant bromantan following the first leg in Moscow on November 15, when he was an unused substitute.
He played in the second leg in Cardiff four days later.
Although Wales's appeal to overturn Russia's 1-0 aggregate victory and remove them from the finals was rejected by UEFA, the doping controversy has shocked the country.
Not only did it deprive Russia of one of their top players in Portugal, it also had a negative effect on the team's morale.
"It's like we have already scored an own goal long before our opening match at the Euro 2004 finals," said one of the team's insiders who wanted his identity not to be revealed.
But Russia coach Georgy Yartsev, who took over the struggling team in late August and steered them safely to the finals, disagreed. "We still have plenty of time to get ready," he said after losing Titov.
Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin, on loan at English premier league club Portsmouth, echoed the coach's view.
"No doubt Titov will be missed, but we have enough good players in midfield in our team who could do the job and direct our attack just as well," he said.
After suffering a dismal 2002 World Cup and missing the 1998 World Cup and the Euro 2000 finals altogether, Russia can ill afford another embarrassing campaign at a major tournament.
Qualifying for Portugal was seen as paramount, so Vadim Yevseyev's solitary goal in their 1-0 playoff victory over Wales was virtually priceless as far as the sport in Russia is concerned.
The European Championship is special for Russian fans.
The Soviet Union won the inaugural championship in 1960 and reached the final on three other occasions, the last time in 1988 when the team, coached by the late Valery Lobanovsky, lost 2-0 to the Netherlands in the final in Munich.
The Russians began their qualifying campaign well under Valery Gazzayev, who replaced the enigmatic Oleg Romantsev after the fiasco in South Korea and Japan.
Things quickly turned sour.
Russia looked lethargic and short of ideas by the end of 2002 and did not improve over their winter, slumping to lacklustre defeats away to outsiders Albania and Georgia.
They regained some pride by fighting back from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw against group leaders Switzerland.
The draw in Basel, however, did little to improve Russia's chances of qualifying as they languished in third place, five points behind Switzerland and three behind Ireland, with three games remaining.
With no significant improvement in sight and players showing little desire and passion for the game, the embattled Gazzayev quit after a humiliating 2-1 home friendly defeat by Israel.
Gazzayev, who also coached CSKA Moscow, had been heavily criticised for picking his own players instead of proven veterans and for poor team tactics.
Yartsev quickly turned round Russia's fortunes, steering his side to two wins and a draw in their final three qualifiers to secure a playoff place against Wales.
The dramatic turn-around rekindled the hopes of millions of Russian soccer fans that this year their team will no longer be among the also-rans in Europe's showcase event. That remains to be seen.