5 Reasons behind Russia's historic success
As the nation still reels in a state of disbelief following the unprecedented penalty shootout victory against mighty Spain.
The question on everyone's lips is How did they manage that?
Before the start of the FIFA World Cup, there was, to put it mildly, a great deal of scepticism around Stanislav Cherchesovâs side. Since then, however, the Sbornaya have won the pride of their countrymen and the journey is not yet over: only Croatia stand between Russia and a spot in the semi-finals. FIFA.com 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.
âThe secret to our success is that not only the starting players,â explained Ilya Kutepov to FIFA, âbut everybody in the squad, plus the coaching and backroom staff, are working towards the same objective. We have been one united whole. It doesnât matter whether youâre playing or not, you can feel support from all sides in the squad. Weâve reaped the rewards of this.â
Support from the fans
When Igor Akinfeev stretched out his leg to save Iago Aspasâ 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.
âIf it werenât for our fans and the World Cup were taking place elsewhere,â midfielder Roman Zobnin said, âour results may have been different. Ninety-five percent is the credit to the fans, who have been supporting us and driving us forward since the first match. Weâve felt their support and we couldnât let them down.â
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 didnât always favour us, but they helped us out like never before today. Iâm proud to be in this team, itâs a huge honour. Well done to everyone, weâve 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.
It is not easy to pin down Russiaâs 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. Cherchesovâs rigorous game-by-game planning has brought results.
âWe analysed Spain in depth,â continued Zobnin, âhow they attack, where their weaknesses are, what problems they have in defence and where theyâre 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 didnât give them any chances.â
A lot of praise for Russiaâs 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.
âOver the past two years, weâve tried to maintain positive trends,â explained the Spaniard Granero. âOur 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.â