Stanislav Cherchesov has an ironic take on his role in a history-making moment at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™: "Well, what do you know! You concede one goal at the World Cup and make it into the record books: the oldest player at the tournament scored against me!"
The new head coach of Russia enjoyed a rich playing career as a goalkeeper and was named in the squad to represent his country at two World Cups in 1994 and 2002. He only actually featured in one match, but what an encounter it was.
Russia's 6-1 group-stage thrashing of Cameroon at USA 1994 will forever be remembered thanks to two records: Oleg Salenko's five goals in a single game has never been bettered at the tournament, while the Indomitable Lions' solitary strike was provided by 42-year-old Roger Milla, who to this day remains the oldest goalscorer at a World Cup. Nevertheless, Cherchesov is able to look back at this 'achievement' with humour.
"It's probably the only goal I let in that I wasn't angry about," the goalkeeper-turned-manager explained to FIFA.com. "Look at the mark it left in history! Also, the goal didn't have an effect on the result."
The victory against Cameroon is arguably Russia's best-ever performance at a World Cup in the post-Soviet era. "We had nothing to lose and we gave everything we had," Cherchesov recalled. "We had a decent team back then, but the draw didn't do us any favours at all.
"In the same group as us were the champions-to-be Brazil and Sweden, who ended up in third place. I'm convinced we would have made it to the knockout rounds had there been just one slightly weaker team in the group."
There is hope in Russia that the magic on show that day at the Stanford Stadium comes back in time for the upcoming tournament held on home soil. In this respect, Stanislav Cherchesov has been entrusted with one of the highest honours in the coaching world: preparing his national team for a World Cup on home soil.
"My first memories of the World Cup are from 1982, which is still my favourite tournament. I can remember Brazil's wonderful [2-1] victory in their opening game against the Soviet Union, as well as [Rinat] Dasayev's amazing [goalkeeping] feats. It's fantastic that the World Cup is coming to Russia. The eyes of the whole world will be on our country. The most important thing is that all the infrastructure – stadiums, airports and so on – will continue to be used after the tournament."
Yet even faced with this massive task, the new Russia boss is not feeling any unnecessary nerves. "Do I feel any heightened sense of responsibility? If I start thinking in those terms, nothing good will come of it. Coaching is my job and I need to approach it as I would any other – calmly and scrupulously."
Prophetic chat with Kerzhakov
Born in Alagir in North Ossetia, Cherchesov's journey to head coach of his country has been a long one. However, as revealed by Russia striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov, even back at the 2002 World Cup the then 38-year-old goalkeeper predicted that one day he would take on the role of national-team supremo.
"I did have that chat with Sasha (Kerzhakov): he was 19 and I was 38," said Cherchesov. "I was the oldest player in the squad and thinking about the future. The man upstairs clearly must have heard our conversation."
In the years since, Russia have failed to make it out of the group stages at two UEFA EUROs and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Cherchesov has his own analysis of the team's underwhelming displays at big tournaments.
"First of all, you need to position yourselves correctly. We need to understand what we're capable of and what we're not capable of. You can only demand from a footballer what he's able to do. I was at two World Cups and I know how important it is. If you're demanding too much from the players, then problems and conflicts will start."
So, what impression should Russia leave on supporters at the upcoming World Cup? "We'd like everyone to see that we give everything we have for the cause and that everyone in the team cares, is fully focused and wants to show what they can do. Everything has to start from a positive mindset, you won't get far with negativity."
Crossing paths with Low again
Between now and the World Cup in 2018, Russia's only official matches will be at the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017. What aims should the host nation set for the Tournament of Champions, the dress rehearsal for Russia 2018?
"By nature, I'm an all-or-nothing person. The Olympic spirit that it's all about taking part is not for me. If you're competing at a tournament, you should be setting the bar high," he said. "Ultimately, you always have a chance of winning. It's a separate issue, on the other hand, that right now we don't have a team at that level. Our first obstacle is to build a new team, prepare for our first friendlies and only then can we start thinking about objectives."
There is a chance that Cherchesov will come across an old acquaintance at the Confederations Cup: Germany coach Joachim Low. After playing for Spartak Moscow and Lokomotiv Moscow, as well as a stint at Dynamo Dresden in Germany, the former keeper set himself up in Austria and quickly became one of the star players for Tirol Innsbruck, where he met and formed a bond with the future 2014 World Cup-winning coach.
"Low joined us during a difficult period when the club was experiencing financial issues. We played for free pretty much for a whole season and still won the Austrian Bundesliga. Joachim was very young for a coach but impressed with his positive outlook and new way of thinking. Of course, we made his task easier because the team had already been built."
And to this day, Cherchesov is still regularly in touch with his Germany counterpart. "Look, I called him an hour ago," he said, taking out his mobile phone where Low's name shows up on the recent-calls list. "I hope to see him again at a coaches' conference in September."
What is more, after that, there is every possibility the old friends will next cross paths as foes next year, come the Confederations Cup.