KEIR RADNEDGE in KAZAN —- Stanislav Cherchesov is under no illusion. He and his players know Russia must now beat Mexico in Kazan if they are to reach the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup which is the hosts’ minimum target.
Cherchesov took over as manager from Leonid Slutsky after the Russians crumpled out of the first round of the 2016 European finals in France. He has brought an outgoing enthusiasm for the job and the World Cup challenge ahead which appears to have rubbed off on his players.
Even so, he recognises that the hard work has only just begun and that nothing is certain about the outcome in the Kazan Arena.
Russia opened with a 2-0 win over New Zealand then lost 1-0 to Portugal to slip from top of Group A to third place. Still, the route to the semi-finals remains open to Russia if they can maintain the improvement in which Cherchesov believes.
He said: “We have pulled off a qualitative leap since the European finals in terms of enthusiasm. We have changed quite a bit in terms of our line-up, our game and our attitude and the fans see that it’s not an accident. Even though we lost to Portugal they still supported us throughout the game.
“Of course we know what they want: they want us to win. Our job now and in the World Cup is not just to confirm the level we are at and the team spirit we’ve managed to build: at such a high-level tournament we need to reach a higher quality.”
The game against Mexico is “one of those days.” He added: “On the one hand it’s a great deal of responsibility, on the other hand were looking forward to it: it’s a decisive game.
“As I said before the tournament, the only country here who not champions are us. So we started from ground level. We’re trying to make steps to reach a higher goal. We respect Mexico and, in terms of the result, Mexico have options, they can afford to win or draw. We have none.”
Cherchesov was not concerned by the fact that Mexico fielded almost two different teams in their 2-2 draw against Portugal and 2-1 win over Australia. Nor did he see any significance in the players’ scuffle which marred the closing stages of the Mexicans game against the Socceroos.
He said: “People get emotional on the pitch. Football involves a lot of physical of contact so I think it was just a case of emotions taking control. Some beautiful goals were scored and I paid more attention to that and to various tactical things.”
FIFA’s disciplinary committee felt the same way. Since Gambian referee Bakary Gassama, with the aid of the video assistant, had dealt with the incident on the pitch it felt there was nothing else it should do.
In disciplinary terms the Mexicans will be more concerned about their fans. The federation was cautioned over the infamous ‘puto’ chant after their first game and two fans were removed and had their fans’ ID removed after trying to set it going next time out.
Above all Mexico have their eyes set on the semi-finals as a springboard towards their likely return next year for the World Cup finals.
Cherchesov is not thinking that far ahead. In fact, he is not even thinking as far as the Confed semi-finals.
He said: “We know what we need to do and we’re not thinking far ahead to the World Cup next year. We are focused on the kickoff to this game and not the future. This is the right approach.
“In athletics, hurdlers at the start of a race don’t think about the last hurdle, only the next hurdle. That’s what we are doing. The next hurdle.”