Friday 20 July 2018, 11:30

Cherchesov: Football fever in Russia really took off

  • Russia spread joy with their performances and results on home soil

  • The hosts sent Spain packing and almost reached the semi-final

  • Head coach Stanislav Cherchesov explained reasons behind achievements

The 2018 FIFA World Cup™ was an unforgettable celebration of football, and a major factor in this was the superb performance of hosts Russia. sat down with Sbornaya head coach Stanislav Cherchesov to ask how his team managed to surprise everyone by reaching the quarter-finals, where they narrowly lost to Croatia on penalties after a keenly fought contest.

“Firstly, much credit goes to the organisers,” Cherchesov began. “After being awarded the World Cup, we had to convince everyone who voted for Russia that it was the right decision. All the organisational aspects were carried out to an extremely high standard. This isn’t just coming from us; our foreign guests have said the same thing. This is key because, without that, neither we nor any other national team would have been able to perform well.

“For two years we were preparing for this objective and there was a competitive selection process in the squad. We were dogged by injuries, which happens to a lot of teams. We tried to address all the issues, and then focus on the players we had and the opponents we were due to face. Before the World Cup, we had a brilliant training camp in Tirol, which is also where we tuned up for the Confederations Cup a year ago. That tournament was our dress rehearsal; it helped us to see where our shortcomings were and correct them before the real thing.

“We realised that we needed to not just win the Opening Match but do it convincingly, so the fans would start believing in the team. The football fever in Russia really took off after that game. The whole of the country was patiently and nervously waiting for the World Cup, but the team and the fans were united right from the first match.”

The 5-0 victory in the Opening Match came as a surprise to everyone, but the Sbornaya did not stop there and secured qualification from the group in their very next fixture. The defeat to Uruguay was followed by one of the shocks of the tournament, as Russia knocked out one of the pre-tournament favourites, Spain. The hosts then met Croatia in the last-eight, and the pair served up a thriller that will live long in the memory, but which of his team’s performances pleased Cherchesov the most?

“On an emotional level, Spain, of course,” the head coach answered, “but in terms of the performance, probably the Egypt game. We knew perfectly well what we had to do and set out to get the win that would earn qualification for the Round of 16. Although a coach, like any father, shouldn’t pick out favourites from among his children, all five matches were satisfying in their own way and gave food for thought.”

“We wanted to win against Uruguay, but actually we specifically didn’t change our tactics, so our next opponent wouldn’t think we might do this against them,” Cherchesov continued. “We’d played with five defenders previously, but before the World Cup and at the tournament itself we set up with four at the back. I think this wrong-footed Spain a little bit. They couldn’t come up with an answer to our tactical approach. I’m grateful to the players, they carried out the game plan to the letter.”

“I didn’t want to say it myself, so as not to appear immodest,” Cherchesov smiled, “but since you’ve mentioned it… In my opinion, it was the best match of the tournament, both in terms of the tension and the football.”

Russia scored 11 goals in total at the World Cup, three of which are in the running for Goal of the Tournament – a feat only Belgium can match, although the Red Devils were also the leading goalscorers at the competition. How did Russia manage to find the net so often and so spectacularly as well?

“We have some individually gifted players,” the coach explained. “Each one has their own ‘trademark’, so to speak. [Aleksandr] Golovin is a set-piece specialist and has a great strike from distance, [Denis] Cheryshev has a wonderful left foot and we all know what Artem Dzyuba is capable of. The lads were focused and well prepared. Our players drew praise for more than just their beautiful goals, which is why some top European clubs are interested in a few of them. That is clearly pleasing to us.”

Denis Cheryshev of Russia celebrates after scoring

Exceeding expectations

That Russia made it as far as the quarter-final is unquestionably an excellent achievement, but after the painful penalty shootout defeat to Croatia, players and coaches alike admitted they were aiming for more. Now that the dust has settled and the champions have been crowned, it is possible to assess the result with a cool head.

“A quarter-final is a pretty good result for us, if we analyse the performances,” Cherchesov agreed. “Croatia beat England and played well in the final, so we can safely say Russia deserve a good mark. However, there’s only one World Cup Trophy and it went to France…

“We played against the French in March and saw how good they were back then. We were criticised for our results in the warm-up matches against Argentina, Spain, Brazil and France, but those matches gave us a lot to ponder and helped us to prepare for the World Cup. We’ll come across France again and I think the experience we’ve built up will help us to play well. But there are no ifs and buts in sport: France are the world champions and I congratulate my colleague Didier Deschamps. I was surprised at how well their star players put the team first.”

What now for Russia after the World Cup on home soil?

During the emotional ceremony in honour of the Sbornaya at Vorobyovy Gory last week, Cherchesov declared from the stage that the team is capable of going even further at Qatar 2022.