A look at 2018 FIFA’s host’s performance.
On June 14th The 2018 FIFA World Cup Games officially begun on Russian soil, at the famous Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Russia’s National Team, which experienced many ups and downs in recent years, automatically qualified to compete in the games, a privilege granted to the Host.
Dubbed as on of the worst teams among all, during the friendly pre-qualifying matches and pushed to the bottom of FIFA rating (placing in the 70’s), it is given the opportunity to be included in Group A as the host. It seems the “host privilege” is what gets Russia in. The teams’s soccer fans across the globe, watch with anticipation, however they are not getting their hopes up too much. After 24 years, the road to victory is a long and strenuous one.
Having had participated in 3 FIFA World Cups (out of 6) since its Independence and the collapse of USSR, the Russian National Team had placed in the (18th, 22nd and 24th place) in the group stage respectively. They had a lot to aspire to within the ranks of the soccer world, undoubtedly the most respected sport in the Russian Federation. It seemed that every time a new manager was elected, with the idea to bring Russia closer to a victory, something always went wrong, the team got side tracked and eliminated along the way.
Whether they were on their way to elimination because of being placed with stronger opponents (Fifa 15-1994), or they got disqualified at the very last minute- as was the case in the 1998 Games (Russia drew 1-1 with Italy but in the away leg was defeated 1-0), or the elimination simply occurred for lack of points (Fifa , 2002- Here in their last game against Belgium they needed to draw but lost and were eliminated), their luck and dream of getting closer to a victory seemed far reached.
Comes FIFA 2018. The 21st World Cup Games are held on Russian soil this time. The National Team automatically qualifies to compete in Group A. It seems luck and fate are on their side this time. It’s time for redemption.
As the media prepared to publicize the team, several sources joked that Coach Cherchesov….is the “moustache of hope”. As a joke, people sported the same mustache as the coach for support.
As FIFA kicked off, Russia was set to play opening day June 14th against Saudi Arabia. 78,000 fans were in attendance at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. No one expects the kind of outcome that was to transpire in the following couple of weeks. In their first game against Saudi Arabia, Russia is victorious (5-0). Their next game, just a few days later, was against Egypt (3-1). They achieve a +7 goal difference with only two matches played. Now fans worldwide were paying attention.
Match TV commentator Denis Kazansky noted:
“From the first day we had not been expecting much from our team. Then thoughts turned to winning the thing. What we have seen is a significant change in people’s attitudes, and in the history of Russian football”.
However, the main shock is yet to come. During the knockout stage against Spain, when everyone was expecting Spain to crush Russia, Coach Stanislav Cherchesov uses a defensive 5-3-1-1 formation and concedes no goals from open play. The score is 1-1, as the teams go into penalty kicks. Russia is victorious with Igor Akinfeev saving two penalties, making the score 4-3.
Fans across the world and particularly in Russia were shocked! The team that struggled for so many years, finally had a chance. Even non soccer fans tuned in.
Russia went to the Quarter Finals, an event that has not occured since the games in 1970.
The anticipated game was held in Sochi on July 7th. Russia played against Croatia. Here coach Cherchesov reverts to a four-man defense, which successfully exploits Croatia’s offense set-up. Russia scored the first goal, a magnificent strike by Denis Cheryshev (his fourth goal in the tournament), and also delivered another goal (a header by Mario Fernandes) at the 115th minute. The match finished 2-2 (after extra time), and finally Russia was defeated in the penalty stage (3-4).
Not quite reaching the full World Cup dream, the impact that they achieved is commendable and noticeable. This is by far Russia’s best World Cup performance ever since the dissolution of the USSR.
The “moustache of hope” achieves its glory and Coach Cherchesov leads the team to an unbelievable point in Fifa 21. As fans cheer on their accomplishment one last time in a meet and greet in Moscow, the Russian National team promises to be back in four years even stronger.