After the agony of losing to a solitary late Belgium goal, Russia's chances of progressing at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ are now in serious doubt. Clenched teeth, bowed heads and silence prevailed among Fabio Capello’s charges, for whom the short walk from pitchside to the dressing room must have appeared to go on forever.
Such disappointment is clearly understandable, given Russia’s pre-tournament aim of at least reaching the Round of 16, yet there is also a much bigger picture for the eastern Europeans here in Brazil – that of laying the foundations for a team that will do them proud as host nation in four years’ time. Among the 23 chosen for this Brazilian adventure are a select band of players who look odds-on to provide a vital link between those with World Cup experience and the new blood sure to be introduced with a view to Russia 2018.
Included in the former group are Aleksei Kozlov and Victor Fayzulin, both of whom put in solid displays versus the Belgians, though neither was prepared to cast their eyes as far ahead as the next global showpiece.
“It’s very difficult to draw any positives when you lose like that,” Kozlov told FIFA. “We’re all disappointed about what happened late on, but we’ve still got a chance of continuing in the tournament. While that’s the case, we can’t start thinking about anything else,” went on the powerfully built 27-year-old right-back, who patrolled his area of the pitch – which included Diables Rouges’ livewire Eden Hazard – with aplomb for the 62 minutes he spent on the field.
“No, I can’t go looking towards the future today,” said Fayzulin. “It’s true we’ve got a young and talented team, but we must only focus on the Algeria game. What can I tell the youngest lads on a day like today? Nothing, each one of us knows what he has to do in the here and now,” added the tireless central midfielder, widely considered as the man that makes Capello’s XI tick.
“We knew that Belgium were favourites, but that wasn’t obvious during the game. We managed to put them under pressure and had several good spells, but we simply couldn’t score. That’s football, if you don’t score you’re in trouble,” explained the Zenit man, winner of 21 Russia caps, who himself was denied a long-range goal by a save from Thibaut Courtois.
Dinamo Moscow defender Kozlov, making his 12th senior international appearance, was on the same page: “We had a couple of clear chances but we missed them. We now need to go back to our training camp and work on how to improve on that. We’ll be up for the challenge against Algeria.”
As the interview drew to a close, Fayzulin revealed how “Capello told us we’d played very well and that that’s football: we gave them a chance and they took it." What's more, though they perhaps cannot see it now, this reverse may end up proving a useful lesson for the Sbornaya with one eye on Russia 2018.