The question confronting Russian football fans ahead of the World Cup is whether the host nation’s team can actually get any worse.
On Tuesday, Russia extended their winless streak with a 1-1 home draw against Turkey. It meant Stanislav Cherchesov’s side have failed to chalk up a single victory in eight months.
Cherchesov, a former Russian international goalkeeper, has five wins, six draws and nine defeats since taking over in August 2016, but his recent record is even less impressive.
Tuesday’s draw meant he is Russia’s first manager ever to fail to win in seven consecutive games.
Cherchesov insists that gaining experience ahead of the World Cup, which Russia opens against Saudi Arabia in Moscow on June 14, was more important than the results.
“Russia will perform well,” he insisted at the news conference after the match with Turkey. “You will see the ‘ideal’ Russian team on June 14.”
Russian media and fans do not share his confidence.
“Everything’s bad,” declared the front page of Wednesday’s Sport Express daily, which said the national side’s play had dampened the mood of fans in the country.
“With such a performance from our national team our chances look pretty low,” school teacher Daniil Pospelov, who watched the Turkey match from a Moscow pub, told AFP.
“We need to learn how to attack constructively to get a result regardless of whether the opponents’ team make mistakes or not.”
However, Vitaly Mutko, who was once the head of Russian Football Union but temporarily stepped down after he was linked to state-sponsored doping programmes, was not disturbed by the result.
“It’s not a problem that the squad haven’t won a single match within a year,” Sport Express quoted Mutko as saying. “Don’t forget who the opponents have been – Argentina, Spain, Brazil, France.
“I believe our team is moving in the right direction,” he added.
Meanwhile, Cherchesov, a brusque and stubborn man known as a tough disciplinarian, also managed to find some positives in his team’s performance compared to their previous friendly last week, a 1-0 defeat to Austria.
“I think we’ve made a qualitative leap ahead by comparison to the match with Austria,” he said.
However, the attempts to put a brave face on a sorry business angered many former Russian internationals.
“I don’t grieve for Cherchesov and his plans,” former Manchester United star and Russian international Andrei Kanchelskis told Sport Express. “For me his ideas are ridiculous and unreal. I’m worried about our footballers.
“I just cannot grieve for the ridiculous coaching team that destroys our football.”
- Dispirited squad -
Cherchesov’s ability to coach Russia to the 2018 World Cup was already put in question in March last year after his squad hit a new low with a 2-0 defeat to Ivory Coast, who failed to qualify for the tournament.
Russia’s dispirited squad were whistled off the pitch by furious fans in the southern city of Krasnodar after the loss.
“I’m bitterly disappointed,” Russian coach Valery Nepomnyashchy, who guided Cameroon into the 1990 World Cup last-eight round and now coaches Baltika Kaliningrad in the Russian second tier, said afterwards.
“The team showed obvious lack of creative moves and sharp passing. There was no balance between the attack and defence.”
Since then, Russia’s team have shown little progress. They failed to make it out of the group stage as hosts of the eight-team Confederations Cup last summer, beating football minnows New Zealand 2-0 in the opening game and losing to Portugal and Mexico.
They did beat South Korea, helped by two own goals in Moscow in October, but since then have lost to Argentina, Brazil, France and Austria and drawn with Spain, Iran and now Turkey.
After facing Saudi Arabia in Group A at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 14, Russia face Egypt in St Petersburg on June 19 and Uruguay in Volgograd on June 25.