Wednesday 04 July 2018, 06:14

The quarter-finalists' unsung heroes

  • Every successful team has many working behind the scenes

  • Veteran players, assistant coaches play crucial role

  • recognises the remaining sides' unsung heroes

The star names are usually the ones receiving the plaudits and writing the headlines when a team makes a deep run into a prestigious tournament like the FIFA World Cup™. With an achievement such as reaching the quarter-finals of a major knockout tournament comes a mountain of work and sacrifice from various individuals behind the scenes.

Before the quarter-finals start, takes a look at an individual from each team whose work behind the scenes or sacrifices made for the team deserve special recognition.

Uruguay: He has not played a single minute at Russia 2018, but Uruguay’s record-caps holder Maximiliano Pereira’s influence and significance to La Celeste has been exceptional. “He has been very important to the team for many years and continues to be, even though he doesn’t play at the moment,” said captain Diego Godin. “His experience helps the youngest ones a lot.”

Uruguay Portraits - Maximiliano Pereira

France: Didier Deschamps’ No2 and confidant is Guy Stephan. Stephan, who has known Deschamps since 2000 and has been his assistant with Les Bleus for six years and he's seen as a father figure inside the camp. “People like him are rare. Three words are not enough to describe him: He’s faithful, honest, efficient and intelligent,” said French Football Federation President Noel Le Graet.

France's head coach Didier Deschamps (R) jokes with assistant coach Guy Stephan

Brazil: Brazil assistant coach Cleber Xavier (pictured wearing glasses in top photo) has worked with head coach Tite for 17 years. Xavier has been taking part in press conferences with Tite, alternating with fellow assistant Sylvinho—a symbolic representation of Tite’s trust and respect for his team of coaches. “I’m a practical guy and Tite is a man of ideas. Tite is not a centralising figure, so I’m like a second coach, with the same power, while he has the final word.”

Belgium: From the sideline back to the pitch, and it is Axel Witsel’s importance to Belgium that cannot be overstated. Playing in a deep-lying midfield role, Witsel exemplifies versatility that coaches love. “It is my nature to be calm. It helps us on the pitch when facing tense moments and I try to convey this serenity to the rest of the players when they need it.”

Axel Witsel of Belgium and Edgar Barcenas of Panama battle for possession

Russia: For the hosts, veteran Yury Zhirkov deserves recognition for his role in their remarkable run to the last-eight. “Even before the game I felt pain in the achilles tendon. After the first half it became so strong, so I had to ask for a substitution.” As coach Stanislav Cherchesov confirmed, it is unlikely he will feature again, unless Russia were to make the final.

Russia v Saudi Arabia: Group A - Yury Zhirkov takes a corner kick

Croatia: Iva Olivari is Croatia's team manager and is a pioneer being the first woman to sit on the bench for the national team at a World Cup. A former national tennis champion at U-14 level, Olivari takes care of their logistics and travel plans, and much more, and has been working for the Croatian Football Federation since 1992. "Iva is really a great person," said Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. "She is always with us. She's like our guardian angel! I've known her for ten years. It is not easy to manage all of us guys. She loves to joke and we all love her because of it."

Sweden: A large part of the Swedes' success has been down to their unity and mental strength thanks to their sports psychology advisor Daniel Ekvall. "I am available for individual talks and then there are group sessions. From what the players say in those, I create a mental plan for the upcoming match. I know full well that we are doing this together."

England: A large part of the Three Lions' efficiency in front of goal at Russia 2018 is thanks to the work of attacking coach Allan Russell. "There are very few people who actually work at this level of detail—looking at technique, where goals come from," said England manager Gareth Southgate. "With more senior players that tends not to happen because you are going from game to game. But Allan focuses specifically on technique."

England Media Access - Gareth Southgate speaks with Steve Holland and Allan Russell