One of the biggest underdogs and the lowest ranked team of this edition did not fail to disappoint.
Before the start of the FIFA World Cup, there was, to put it mildly, a great deal of scepticism around Stanislav Cherchesov’s side. Since then, however, the Sbornaya have won the pride of their countrymen. FIFA lists the reasons behind the hosts’ success at the 2018 World Cup.
A close-knit squad
This team has been two years in the making for head coach Stanislav Cherchesov. In that time, many different players have been called up and there have been numerous question-marks over the best line-up among the media. Ultimately the team have come together into a rock-solid unit, where the players are prepared to work for each other in pursuit of the common goal.
“The secret to our success is that not only the starting players,” explained Ilya Kutepov to FIFA, “but everybody in the squad, plus the coaching and backroom staff, are working towards the same objective. We have been one united whole. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing or not, you can feel support from all sides in the squad. We’ve reaped the rewards of this.”
Watch: Saudi Arabia Vs Russia highlights
Support from the fans
When Igor Akinfeev stretched out his leg to save Iago Aspas’ penalty, there was more than just a cheer at the Luzhniki Stadium, you could almost feel the acoustic impact from the stands, as if a plane was taking off there and then. It was not just Akinfeev who saved that penalty, the whole stadium saved it, causing wide celebrations at FIFA Fan Fests and all over the country.
“If it weren’t for our fans and the World Cup were taking place elsewhere,” midfielder Roman Zobnin said, “our results may have been different. Ninety-five percent is credit to the fans, who have been supporting us and driving us forward since the first match. We’ve felt their support and we couldn’t let them down.”
In years gone by, one of the main criticisms levelled at Russian players was that they didn’t work hard enough, but that is now a thing of the past. At the World Cup on home soil, the Sbornaya have given everything they could and then some.
Striker Artem Dzyuba summed up their commitment after the Spain game: “The only way we could win was through this type of performance, by holding out and fighting. The pain and cramps will come later. The footballing gods didn’t always favour us, but they helped us out like never before today. I’m proud to be in this team, it’s a huge honour. Well done to everyone, we’ve been amazing today. We were virtually out on our feet at the end there. We believed that self-sacrifice, discipline and structure could overcome class.
Watch: Spain Vs Russia highlights
It is not easy to pin down Russia’s tactical system. In every match at the 2018 World Cup so far, the hosts have not been afraid to adapt to each opponent and try to exploit their weaknesses. Cherchesov’s rigorous game-by-game planning has brought results.
“We analysed Spain in depth,” continued Zobnin, “how they attack, where their weaknesses are, what problems they have in defence and where they’re strongest. We followed the game plan to the letter. We withstood and kept them at bay, knowing how good they are in attack. Aside from a few exceptions, we pretty much didn’t give them any chances.”
A lot of praise for Russia’s performances should go to the fitness coaches, Paulino Granero and Vladimir Panikov. The Russians are leading the way at the World Cup in a number of physical statistics, such as total distance run, the intensity of their pressing and how often they have recovered possession.
“Over the past two years, we’ve tried to maintain positive trends,” explained the Spaniard Granero. “Our team is showing good physical fitness. The players have been disciplined when it comes to their duties, they understand that the World Cup is an opportunity to show themselves at their best.”