For a man with the hopes of a nation – and the Kremlin – resting on his shoulders, Russia boss Stanislav Cherchesov cut a remarkably relaxed figure ahead of his side’s World Cup opener.
The tournament hosts take on Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday with the pressure firmly on the 54-year-old who has to not only satisfy the country’s fans and a hugely sceptical media but also provide the watching Vladimir Putin with reasons to be optimistic.
Putin is hoping to use the World Cup as a showcase for modern Russia and dismal failure from his own team is unlikely to go down well within the corridors of power.
With that in mind, Cherchesov could be forgiven for feeling the pressure but instead he was in a jovial mood on Wednesday, laughing and joking with reporters at his pre-match news conference.
He accepted, however, the need for a strong performance, and positive result, against the Saudis on opening night.
He said: “We have been studying our opponents from day one. There are no weak teams in any of the groups. The first game is important as it will set the tone to a certain extent.
“We are trying to iron out any kinks we have.”
— Сборная России (@TeamRussia) June 13, 2018
Cherchesov, whose players relaxed on Wednesday with a game of Trivial Pursuit, said morale was high in the camp and that criticism – Andrei Kanchelskis has described this Russia team as the worst he has ever seen – was part of the job.
“Our mood is very good, we are ready to work. We did a lot of work in Austria and we have reached a good recent level, especially against Turkey [a 1-1 draw in a pre-tournament friendly] when we showed a bit of the game we want to play,” he added.
“Any coach has to accept criticism. I don’t read anything and stay focused on my job. We are trying to do what we’re doing – the fact we are getting criticised, that’s the world we live in today.
“Perhaps some don’t criticise enough and some too much. We never touch upon this topic at all. We have to do everything to turn criticism into praise.”
Asked if he had a message for the Russian people, Cherchesov smiled and explained the western media wouild struggle to understand if they did not first understand the local culture.
“You would find it hard to find a way through the labyrinth of the Russian soul,” he said.
“It takes us a long time to start driving but when we do we go all the way. But no-one ever achieved anything by words, so we have to follow it up with actions.”
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