World Cup 2018: Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov dreams big before home tournament

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Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov

Russia’s World Cup coach Stanislav Cherchesov believes the hosts just have to relax and be themselves if they want to win before expectant fans and Vladimir Putin.

The pressure will be on Russia to perform when they open football’s premiere against Saudi Arabia in Moscow on June 14.

Putin has already said he was hoping to see the team lift a seemingly unlikely trophy on home ground. The Russian leader is expected to be in attendance when the first World Cup to reach eastern Europe kicks off.

Cherchesov said on Tuesday that he and his squad also only had victory on their mind.

“We know that we are not the favourites, but this does not mean anything,” he said in a Russian television interview.

“We want to be ourselves and then see whether that will be enough, how far that takes us.”

The Russia coach said players felt dejected after losing to Mexico in the semi-final of last year’s Confederations Cup — a World Cup warmup held in Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

“I have never seen such disappointed football players before,” Cherchesov said of the locker room after the Mexico match.

“We wanted to win the Confederations Cup from the start in order to know the taste of victory.”

Russia are coming off a miserable Euro 2016 in which they were knocked out in the group stage after losing to Wales 3-0 in their third and final game.

Former national squad coach Leonid Slutsky confessed shortly afterwards that he and the players agreed things could not get much worse.

“We all said in one voice: ‘We are s**t’,” Slutsky said.

Cherchesov was asked whether he discussed that game and conversation when he took over the Russia job from Slutsky immediately after the tournament.

“Should the national team players been told that they are ‘s**t’? No,” Cherchesov said.

“To be honest, I do not even know what to say about that. We never had such a conversation.”

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Cristiano Ronaldo has rare off night for Portugal: Seven Deadly Stats from latest round of internationals

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Cristiano Ronaldo's failing to score will always be a shock.

The last international break before this summer’s World Cup in Russia included some stellar fixtures, with Brazil’s 1-0 win over Germany to end the world champions’ 22-game unbeaten streak the pick of the lot.

Elsewhere, there were surprising results and some utterly shocking performances as teams looked to find their groove ahead of the summer.

Here are our Seven Deadly Stats from the latest international break.

IN-FORM RONALDO SILENCED

Nobody could stop Cristiano Ronaldo, at least not since the calendars turned over to 2018. So nobody would have backed a Netherlands team still reeling from their failure to qualify for the World Cup to not only silence the Portugal star but do so this emphatically.

The 3-0 win in Geneva was perhaps the most surprising result of this round of international fixtures. There was more to it than simply shutting down Ronaldo – Netherlands’ attack was unusually prolific – but their shackling of the Real Madrid star was impressive.

ARE PEOPLE SLEEPING ON SPAIN?

It’s not that nobody thinks Spain is a contender, or even one of the favourites. But at the moment Germany and Brazil would get most people’s guesses for who’s lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy in July.

Perhaps it’s because in the last two international tournaments Spain have crashed out despite having a more-hyped side. But their 6-1 win over Argentina was the continuation of some superb form since they were knocked out by Italy at Euro 2016.

Germany and Brazil may be the two likely candidates but Spain would fancy their chances against either in this form.

LUCAS TORREIRA’S PERFECT DEBUT

Lucas Torreira has forced his way into the reckoning for Uruguay with some excellent displays for Sampdoria, and his international debut couldn’t have gone better.

The young holding midfielder delivered a cameo that everything you could ask for from a player at his position, with his distribution completely perfect.

ARE YOU WATCHING, JOSE?

Paul Pogba isn’t in form. That’s what everyone’s been hearing for the last two months.

Someone forgot to tell him. His display against Russia was superb, as he and fellow young star Kylian Mbappe stole the show against this summer’s hosts. A stunning free-kick and a pinpoint through ball to find Mbappe meant Pogba hit a high he’d never hit for his national team before.

VAR HELPS ITALY END DROUGHT

It’s somewhat ironic that after all the VAR controversy in Serie A this season, Italy should benefit from its implementation.

Their penalty against England seemed soft at first and while plenty will still feel that way, replays showed enough evidence that the technology got the call right in calling James Tarkowski for a foul. It helped Italy not only avoid a loss to an experimental side, it helped them end a scoring drought that encompassed nearly four games.

SPAIN’S NEW STAR

Spain has had wispy passers who can find their teammates in just the perfect spot for what seems like forever, and there’s one more to add to that list.

Iago Aspas has been one of the best performers in La Liga over the last two seasons and he showed why Julen Lopetegui trusts him so much. His goalscoring form and ability to find the right pass means Alvaro Morata‘s chances of making the final World Cup are hanging by a thread.

NO MESSI, NO PARTY FOR ARGENTINA

As long as there’s Lionel Messi, there’s a chance for whichever team he’s playing for to win major honours. But Argentina showed just how much they need him on Tuesday.

In fairness the Barcelona man wasn’t the only star name who missed the 6-1 loss to Spain, but there was enough quality to avoid getting humiliated. The way they rolled over was a historic low.

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Loss to Spain shows Argentina still not good enough to win Lionel Messi the World Cup

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Messi could only watch on as Argentina crashed to their joint-heaviest defeat.

If Lionel Messi is to fill the one glaring gap in his resume, Argentina need to get their act together.

Yes, Tuesday’s loss to Spain was an outlier. Apart from no Messi, there was also no Paulo Dybala, no Sergio Aguero, no Angel di Maria – none of the star players whose names are always trotted out when Argentina’s case for being among the favourites at an international tournament is being made.

But even as an outlier, a 6-1 scoreline is galling. There was enough quality in the team to avoid getting rolled over like that. Nicolas Otamendi, Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, Marcos Rojo, Ever Banega all started and subsequently saw their country suffer its joint-heaviest defeat.

The result highlighted the same inexplicable problem that has plagued Argentina this entire decade: Messi can’t lift a side which still hasn’t figured out how to play beyond the sum of its parts.

It shouldn’t even have to – any team which has a selection dilemma of picking two out of Dybala, Aguero, Di Maria, Higuain, and Mauro Icardi to play with Messi should be tearing through opponents.

Nor is the team truly top-heavy, as the regular criticism goes. In Mascherano, Banega, Biglia, Otamendi, Rojo, and Gabriel Mercado, there is enough depth to make a serious run in the World Cup without relying solely on the talents of one man, even if that man is one trophy away from ending the debate as to who is the greatest player of all time.

Indeed, this is a team which made the last World Cup final and followed that up with two straight appearances in Copa America finals.

Yet, each time, Argentina’s success in reaching the last hurdle was down to the efforts of Messi, with nobody else playing up to par. And each time, in the final, they came up against a team more well-oiled, more cohesive, more attuned to the concept of playing as a unit, and they lost. And there is nothing to suggest that the 2018 vintage will be any different.

Consider this: in 18 fixtures during qualifiers for this summer’s tournament, all that attacking talent managed 19 goals. Messi scored seven of those in 10 appearances. Three of those came in the final qualifier via a hat-trick – and without that, Argentina wouldn’t even have qualified for the World Cup. The over-reliance on their talisman cannot be overstated.

Over-relying on Messi got them to the final in 2014 and had a few bounces gone their way against Germany that day, they would be world champions. Four years later, however, and the weaknesses which have plagued them then haven’t been solved.

A new “next Messi” has been found but Dybala hasn’t hit the heights of his club career for his country. Higuain hasn’t been relied upon as a consistent scorer, after famous misses in tournament finals, despite his form at club level since. Aguero hasn’t even been a guaranteed starter, depending on the formation used by whoever was coaching.

Current manager Jorge Sampaoli says the World Cup is like a gun pointed to Messi’s head in terms of the pressure it brings.

But the rest of the team is doing nothing to release that weight of expectation, and Tuesday’s loss was the latest example. Spain found it too easy to retain possession, Argentina withered in the face of their opponents’ press, and an utterly embarrassing result followed.

Put them against any of the other favourites for Russia, even at full strength, it’s difficult to see Argentina coming out on top. Brazil beat Argentina 3-0 during the qualifiers even with Messi on the pitch. Spain would back themselves to repeat Tuesday’s performance against Argentina’s first-choice midfield. Germany at their best look like a side in total control, as good as the 2010 Spain side that never let anyone else touch the ball.

And Germany showed in the 2014 final that there is a way to contain Messi. Unfortunately for  La Albiceleste, until someone else on the team shows they can step up on the big occasion, that will be enough to derail their World Cup hopes.

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