Home comforts may be a blessing for Russians
EURO 2020 GROUP B
AS FORMER Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder can testify, raising expectations is rarely a smart career move for a football manager. Russia were the lowestranked team going into their home World Cup in 2018 and manager Stanislav Cherchesov started the tournament under pressure after a poor run of results and some controversial selection decisions. Their surprise run to the quarter-finals, including a last16 victory over Spain, means Cherchesov still has plenty of credit in the bank with Russia fans and the former Spartak Moscow and Dynamo Dresden goalkeeper has a contract until after the 2022 World Cup. Russia’s World Cup was ended by a penalty-shootout defeat to runners-up Croatia and they kicked on with an impressive Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, losing twice to Belgium but winning their other eight games in Group I. Last autumn’s Nations League campaign began with wins over Serbia (3-1) and Hungary (3-2) but ended with a 3-2 defeat to Turkey, and a 5-0 drubbing by the Serbs. After beating Malta and Slovenia in their first two World Cup qualifiers, Russia lost 2-1 to Slovakia, extending their poor defensive record to 16 goals conceded in nine competitive internationals since the start of 2020. Cherchesov must find the right balance in defence but he does have some attacking talent with Aleksandr Golovin, Anton Miranchuk and World Cup hero Denis Cheryshev playing off powerful Zenit St Petersburg striker Artem Dzyuba. Russia beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their opening game of the World Cup but they can expect a far tougher start against Belgium. Their clashes with the Red Devils and Finland both take place on home turf at Zenit’s Krestovsky Stadium, however, so perhaps Cherchesov can rekindle the spirit of 2018.