Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov hopes that his team’s performance at their own World Cup this summer has positively changed perceptions after the hosts were initially tipped to struggle and exit the tournament at the group stage.
In the end, after thumping early wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as a heroic penalty shootout victory against Spain in the last 16, only another shootout stood between Russia and a first World Cup semi final since the Soviet Union reached the last four way back in 1966.
Croatia prevailed from the spot after misses from Fyodor Smolov and Mario Fernandes, whose dramatic extra-time equaliser had forced the shootout, saw Russia bid farewell with their heads held high and having wildly exceeded expectations.
“We trusted ourselves. We could only prove our worth by working hard. I believe that people did not only start trusting us but they are in love with us,” Cherchesov is quoted as saying by BBC.
“The entire country of Russia is in love with us. They know what the Russian national team is worth. We hope we have turned the situation for the better.”
Entering the World Cup as the lowest ranked team in the tournament by FIFA, it all started in such marvellous fashion for Russia as Denis Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin shone in that opening game against Saudi Arabia just over three weeks ago.
They were at it again a few days later against the Egyptians, before a different kind of effort resulted in Spain falling by the wayside in what was Russia’s first ever World Cup knockout game in the post-Soviet era.
Victors Croatia will now face England in the last four on Wednesday, with France and Belgium contesting the first semi final 24 hours earlier.