SOCHI, Russia (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin on Monday marked the Russian ice hockey team as favourite to win the Olympics, saying they were the best team in the tournament.
The Russian press has expressed concern about the team - packed with NHL stars like Alex Ovechkin - after a loss to the United States (US) and victory against Slovakia, both in shootouts.
But Mr Putin said: "I am convinced... that our team is not just one of the best, I think it is the best in the tournament." Mr Putin also entered into the debate over the disallowed goal in Saturday's match with the US that would have given Russia an outright victory.
It was disallowed by a referee - from the US - on the grounds the goal had come off its base.
Asked if it seemed to him that the US goaltender had not pushed the goal off its moorings on purpose, Putin replied: "I think it seemed that way to all our fans."
"But referees sometimes make mistakes and I am not going to call anyone here any names," he added, quoted by Russian news agencies.
Mr Putin was speaking during a trip to the northern city of Cherepovets after spending the weekend in Sochi.
He denied he had deserted Sochi because he had lost interest in the Olympics. "I need to work, so like most of our citizens I will watch on the television."