Is Russia′s team the worst ever for a World Cup host nation? | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 01.06.2018
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Is Russia's team the worst ever for a World Cup host nation?

As hosts, Russia will open World Cup 2018 against Saudi Arabia in a game that already looks crucial. The expectations of the Russian fans and President Vladimir Putin are high, but they could be in for a disappointment.

The aim is clear: "We need to be a really strong host," Russian coach Stanislav Cherchesov said recently. "We can't face Germany until the semifinals or finals. If we get that far, I'll be the happiest man in the world."

If that were to come to pass, he would have every reason to be. However, it's hard to imagine Russia getting to the latter stages of the tournament. Drawn in a group with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay, just getting to the knockout stages will pose a serious challenge for Russia. In view of the team's performances of late, some have even said that Russia look like the worst team ever fielded by a World Cup host nation.

While they kept the score close in their 1-0 defeat against Argentina in the autumn, Russia followed this up with a 3-0 defeats to both Brazil and France in March. Last Wednesday, they wrapped up their training camp in Austria by losing 1-0 to that country's national team in Innsbruck, so now the 54-year-old Cherchesov's men have gone six matches without a win. Their final pre-World Cup friendly will be against Turkey in Moscow next Tuesday.

WM-Testspiel Russland gegen Brasilien (picture-alliance/dpa/L. Perenyi)

Igor Akinfeev had a thankless job against Brazil

An uphill battle

Cherchesov's job is not an enviable one. Three of his best players; central defenders  Georgi Jikia and Victor Vasin, as well as striker Alexandr Kokorin are all out of action after suffering cruciate ligament ruptures.

Two former Bundesliga players have also been in the headlines for the wrong reasons:  Roman Neustädter and Konstantin Rausch were both fined by the Russian FA after being caught out on the town after curfew following the Brazil match. 

Cherchesov's team is far from the most talented. None of the members of Russia's national side plays for a top European club. The squad is also too old, there's a distinct lack of young talent.  The country's FA is still working on setting up a national scouting and training program.  

Not much of a history to look back upon

Cherchesov, a former goalkeeper with Dynamo Dresden, took over the national team after its disappointing performance at Euro 2016 in France, when the Russians failed to get past the group stage. This was also the case the three times Russia have qualified for the World Cup, in 1994, 2002 and 2014. The only positive surprise was a fourth-place finish at the 2008 European championship.

WM-Testspiel Russland gegen Brasilien (picture-alliance/dpa/L. Perenyi)

Denis Glushakov (right) and his Russian teammates didn't stand a chance against the Brazilians

However, the Russian national team's predecessor, the Soviet Union, were far more successful. The USSR won the European title in 1960 and finished fourth at the 1966 World Cup. In 1988 they got to the final of the European Championship, losing to the Netherlands.

Given what he has to work with, Cherchesov tries to get his team to focus on defense first, something that doesn't come naturally. He prefers to play offensive football, with three strikers, but he changed his tactics following the losses to Brazil and France.

"We played offensively against Brazil in the second half – and conceded three goals," Cherchesov explained after the France match. "This time we played offensively right from the start - and conceded three goals. This shows that we get into trouble when we try to play offensively against such strong opposition."

Cherchesov is now working on tightening up Russia's defense.Could that save his job? Russia have had nine different coaches since 1992 and apart from Oleg Romansev, none has held onto the job for longer than two years. 

Nobody should be surprised if Russia's World Cup is over after three matches, and even if is, it wouldn't be a first: South Africa failed to advance beyond the group stage when that country hosted the World Cup in 2010.

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