Putin's words added incentive for Russia

With confidence surging, hosts feel final is within reach but Croatia want to spoil party

QUARTER-FINALS

Russia v Croatia
Singtel TV Ch141 & StarHub Ch222, tomorrow, 2am

SOCHI • Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov revealed that words of encouragement from President Vladimir Putin have provided an "extra boost" as the team prepare for today's World Cup quarter-final against Croatia.

"President Putin called me before the game with the Spanish and after," Cherchesov told a press conference in Sochi yesterday.

"Of course, when the President supports you, it makes us comfortable. The players know this and it is just an extra boost for us in terms of motivation."

Mr Putin watched on TV as the hosts upset 2010 winners Spain on penalties last Sunday to secure Russia's place in the quarter-finals for the first time since the Soviet era.

There was euphoria across the country as the team, who were written off after a seven-game winless run before the tournament began, continued to defy expectations.

But Cherchesov is not getting ahead of himself, saying: "Myself as a coach, openly, I'm trying not to watch TV or read the newspapers. I'm concentrating on my job and that's it. I believe the players are the same.

"It is good to remind ourselves of the game against Spain, but let's look forward now. This is a different game now, a different level in the quarter-final.

"You say people are euphoric but we are not the people who should be euphoric, that is for you journalists. We Russians like extremes so let's not go to these extremes."

Some of his players, however, are already contemplating going all the way as confidence is surging amid a potential semi-final against either England or Sweden.

"Even before the tournament started, we all knew we could reach the final," said star midfielder Aleksandr Golovin. "Now, we are seriously counting on it."

STRONGMAN BACKING

It makes us comfortable... it is an extra boost for us in terms of motivation.

STANISLAV CHERCHESOV, Russia coach, reveals President Vladimir Putin has been giving the team words of encouragement.

The hosts, having played their first four matches in Moscow, St Petersburg and Samara, can expect partisan support again at the Fisht Stadium. But Croatia defender Sime Vrsaljko insisted that Zlatko Dalic's men will not be affected despite being the away side.

"We're focused only on the game," he told the Croatian Football Federation website. "We respect Russia, it was not by fluke that they have qualified for the quarter-finals, they're a great team.

"Russia players will certainly enjoy huge fan support, but it changes nothing. We'll hear almost nothing when we're on the pitch."

Still, Croatia captain Luka Modric knows that Russia will be difficult to break down and are dangerous on the counter-attack.

12TH MAN NO BEARING ON GAME

Russia players will certainly enjoy huge fan support, but it changes nothing.

SIME VRSALJKO, Croatia defender, believes the partisan support that Russia will enjoy will not affect his team.

"The attitude and organisation of Russia was vital when it came to limiting Spain's potential," said the midfielder, who expects the Russians to sit deep when they play his team today. "Russia are very comfortable playing on the break, they work hard and they are well organised."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2018, with the headline 'Putin's words added incentive for Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe