Hosts Russia dreaming of World Cup 'success' against Spain
Manager Stanislav Cherchesov presented with ornament from Moscow artist ahead of last-16 clash
Before a question had been offered, a member of the media presented Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov with a dainty ornament sculpted by an artist working at a Moscow university.
The gift, a small figurine dressed in Russia red and replete with flag and football, had apparently been dubbed “Success”.
Suddenly, taking on Spain, the 2010 world champions in this World Cup's last 16 and in front of their own fans, seemed that much more straightforward.
“We have been thinking of how to play for the past four or five days, and then you give me this present and everything is so easy,” Cherchesov smiled. “Because it’s called ‘Success’.”
If only it was that simple. But, then, Cherchesov and his Russia team are under no illusions: on Sunday, the hosts take on a much-fancied Spanish outfit, one of the favourites for the title, ball-possession specialists with serious big-game pedigree.
Russia, despite the home advantage and what is sure to be a passionately partisan crowd at the Luzhniki Stadium, were the tournament’s lowest-ranked team when the game’s great carnival kicked off more than two weeks ago.
Just getting this far is viewed as success. Any further would be Success with a capital "S", ornament or not.
“It is clear that this is a play-off, this is a life-or-death match, absolutely that’s true,” Cherchesov said. “There will be only one team going through. You used the word ‘pressure’. I don’t think pressure; I believe there is a responsibility. Spain feels this responsibility, Russia feels this responsibility. If you lose you’re out.”
To prevent that, Cherchesov said he would spend Saturday night finalising his analysis of a Spain team different to the one held to a 3-3 draw by Russia in a friendly in Saint Petersburg last November. Manager Julen Lopetegui has gone – on the eve of the tournament – and Real Madrid luminary Fernando Hierro has come in.
So Spain go into the match with an understandably shaken ship steadied, courtesy of a victory and two draws in Group B. They finished top, ahead of Portugal, sealing safe passage to the knockouts.
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In contrast, Russia won their opening two matches and then were defeated 3-0 by Uruguay. Yet Cherchesov denied confidence has been dented. Far from it, in fact: with defender Igor Smolnikov sent off in the first half when the South Americans were already two goals up, Russia could extract positives from the loss.
“We were 10 playing against the 11 of Uruguay and I believe we managed to fight back,” Cherchesov said. “When you make conclusions you should see something good. And this was a positive thing: we showed we were a good team. Of course, I was frustrated, but we did not lose confidence in ourselves.”
Confidence should be coursing through Denis Cheryshev ahead of an additionally special encounter. The Russian midfielder, who has three goals to his name this tournament, has played his entire professional career in Spain. Now at Villarreal, scoring the goal that eliminates the country in which he is based could carry extra weight. Or maybe not.
“Life would quite simply go on, nothing major would change,” Cheryshev said. “What’s most important is that our team continues in the World Cup. If I score a goal I will be happy. But I would be just as happy or happier if we continue.”
Even still, Cheryshev understands better than most the task that awaits.
“Spain has some great players, they might even be the best team in the world,” he said. “But any team can hurt another and we’ll definitely do our best. We need to be professional and focus on what we have to do.
“I’m sure we’re going to have a hard time. And I repeat: we know they are excellent. But we also have our assets and we know how to take advantage. We can win against anybody. That’s what we need to think and believe - just think of victory."
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