Sunday 08 July 2018, 04:53

Pride and gratitude as Russia stars reflect

By Igor Borunov with Russia

Russia narrowly lost out to Croatia and, although they cannot head home as such, they certainly leave the tournament with pride. Moreover, the fans should be proud of them.

The FIFA World Cup is a difficult competition, where a lot needs to come together for progress to be made. The hosts finished ahead of several more glamorous names, such as Germany, Argentina, Portugal and Spain - beaten by Russia on penalties in the Round of 16 -, while Brazil and Uruguay were knocked out at the same stage.

“I’m grateful to the players for this tournament,” said head coach Stanislav Cherchesov. “Fifty days have flown by like one. Thanks to the fans as well, it’s down to them that we got so far. We didn’t have any standout players, it was the team that stood out. All 23 players deserve respect, they all gave it their all. Only by working hard can we get people to believe in us and love us. Now the whole country knows what kind of national team they have. I hope we’ve changed attitudes for the better.”

Cherchesov’s team inspired not only their own supporters but also football fans around the world, seeing as the compliments for the Sbornaya have been flooding in since yesterday. Before the start of the World Cup, Russia had no stars in their team, but now everybody knows who Igor Akinfeev, Denis Cheryshev, Artem Dzyuba, Sergei Ignashevich and Mario Fernandes are.

Plenty of other teams can try to emulate Russia in terms of their commitment, fitness levels and tactical acumen. Of course, the Sbornaya do not have players the level of Kylian Mbappe, Eden Hazard, Luka Modric or Harry Kane, but they are a team and there is every hope this could be the start of a new era.

“I’d give our tournament a mark of ‘satisfactory’,” Ilya Kutepov told FIFA. “Although a lot of people didn’t believe in us before the start of the World Cup and thought we’d get knocked out at the group stage, we actually raised the bar really high. I’m heartbroken but probably only for today. It will pass, so as professionals we’ll process it and move forwards. I think this team has a future.”

The match against Croatia was the last in the career of the legendary Sergei Ignashevich, whose records are unlikely to be broken for a long time. Aleksandr Samedov, an irreplaceable part of Cherchesov’s system, has also announced his retirement from the Sbornaya. Both deserve a note of thanks.

As usual, Artem Dzyuba came up with just the right words for the occasion.

“I want to thank my team-mates and everyone who was involved in our team,” the big striker said to Russia’s Channel One. “I’m proud of them and I love them like my family. We’ve become a family.

"For our whole lives, we’ve wanted to prove to the country that we want them to be proud of us, that football is alive and well here. We’re grateful to our country for these emotions. We’re heartbroken but we fought like lions.”