- *Losing to the European champions was not a disaster for Russia *
- *The team can take positives from the second half performance against Portugal *
- Only a victory against Mexico will guarantee Russia a semi-final spot
*By Igor Borunov with Russia
Russia gave themselves a mountain to climb when they conceded early against Portugal yesterday and spent the rest of the match trying in vain to make up for that error. Head coach Stanislav Cherchesov cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines throughout the game, constantly waving instructions and remonstrating with his players.
However, the contrast with his post-match demeanour at the Spartak Stadium could not have been greater, as neither Cherchesov nor his players seemed too upset by the result. The Sbornaya coach smiled and was gracious with the media, while there was a sense from the squad that losing to the European champions was not the end of the world.
"We probably got it wrong in the first half, which explains the goal we conceded and our muddled approach," said Fyodor Kudryashov to FIFA.com. "We worked hard enough, but there were problems with our performance. At half-time, the coach showed us where we were going wrong and we had more success in the second half."
Kudryashov was the closest defender marking Cristiano Ronaldo, when the latter headed Portugal into the lead in the eighth minute, but was unable to stop the net from bulging.
"I tried to make it difficult for him, but it was a hard ask," explained the defender, who has to play with a protective mask because of a nose injury. "He’s the best player in the world, so of course it’s not at all easy to play against him one on one."
Despite the disappointing start to the game, the support from the stands remained positive and the players appreciated how the fans kept driving the team on.
"In the second half, we believed we could draw back level and so we piled forward," Kudryashov concluded. "The supporters could see we fought until the end, but we came up short. The coaches will set out the game plan for Mexico. We need to do our analysis and address our mistakes. If we start the match in Kazan as we played the second half here, I think we’ll be OK."
*Support from Ovechkin *"In the first half, we weren’t able to close down the Portuguese enough in their half of the pitch, even though that was the game plan," said wing back Yuri Zhirkov. "They dealt with our pressing too easily and that’s what led to the goal. We stepped it up in the second half and even swarmed their penalty box. We had some dangerous moves, but we were lacking a cutting edge in our final ball and shots on goal. Nevertheless, the lads gave it 100%."
Ice hockey star Alexander Ovechkin, who is also a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Ambassador, was at the stadium to cheer on the team, many of whom are his good friends. The three-time world champion was seen warmly embracing Cherchesov post-match.
On balance, the result was probably a fair one based on the performance, but Russia can take some positives from their strong finish to the game ahead of the decisive fixture against Mexico. Only a victory against El Tri will do for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 hosts.