Vassiliy from Vladivostok got up at 4:00 in the morning to watch his team lock horns with Croatia in the quarter-final of the World Cup. More than two hours of gruelling battle later as Russia were waving their goodbyes following a penalty shootout heartbreak, Vassiliy returned to bed feeling proud.
There wasn’t a single reason for him to feel disappointed or angry as the team he wholeheartedly cheered throughout the World Cup fairy tale in one of Russia’s 11 time zones reached the end of the road.
World Cup Underdogs Reached Their Limit
Sbornaya were never among the favourites to lift the coveted trophy despite playing on home soil, and their combative quarter-final appearance was the final drop of sweat from a team which got completely worn out in it’s defensive approach.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s 4-2-3-1 formation was intended to fight Croatia’s gun-blazing side to a standstill and for a half an hour at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi his approach brought results, with Andrej Kramaric, Ante Rebic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic all being successfully silenced.
A minute off the half-hour mark saw an eruption of joy and delight on the terraces. Russia won the ball 25-yards out and pushed forward towards Denis Cheryshev, who capped a wonderful team move with a remarkable long-range shot.
With four goals to his name and the total of 7,437 points amassed in five World Cup matches, Cheryshev finished the tournament as the second-best Russian player in Twelve’s rankings.
There’s little surprise to the notion that veteran defender Sergei Ignashevich tops the Russian chart as the hosts bow out of the competition. The total of 8,871 points across 539 minutes he spent on the pitch paint a picture so illustrative and interpretative.
Russia’s most capped player decided to call it quits to his international career at the age of 38 leaving a huge legacy behind him. Having played 127 games in a Russian shirt, he scored eight goals for his country and has every reason to feel as proud as the nation itself when it comes to the 2018 World Cup.
With two aerials lost and a failed tackle being the only negatives in his 1,501-point worth defensive display against Croatia, Ignashevich contributed with 24 key interventions to help Igor Akinfeev protect his goal.
Not only was the seasoned Russian sergeant topping the Twelve ranking in the defensive side of the chart, he was also ahead of Artem Dzuba and Alan Dzagoev is the attack section as well.
A neat 568 points in 129 minutes against the Vatreni are enough of an illustration of Russia’s style of play, which in the end returned to haunt them. Perennial dark horses Croatia once again showed mental strength to fight off a defensively tight side and intense pressure coming from the stands, as Fedor Smolov and Mario Fernandes became the nation’s tragic heroes after missing the penalties.
Nothing to Be Ashamed Of
It was a cruel fashion to end a fairy tale, but Russia will have little to regret.
Having welcomed the tournament into its own backyard on the back of a run which saw them fail to win any of their seven friendlies, Sbornaya came as close as needing two victories to win the most glorious prize in world football. Cherchesov was well aware of his team’s limitations and should not be blamed for going for a defence-minded plan at the World Cup.
In the end it paid dividends, as Russian footballers went on to write another page in their football history. It was 1970 when Russia last appeared in the last eight of the World Cup and the 2018 campaign needs to be remembered for all the good moments and should not be defined by a heartbreaking, lottery-style loss to a team that could go all the way in the tournament.