Russia’s impressive running statistics at the World Cup are based on hard work and motivation, not doping, national team coach Stanislav Cherchesov has insisted.
The 54-year-old was speaking to reporters before today’s Group A decider against Uruguay in Samara, with both teams already certain of knockout football after beating Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Russia came into the tournament on a terrible run of form and with a Fifa ranking of 70th — the lowest ever for a host nation at a World Cup — but eight goals in two games have seen Cherchesov’s men stroll into the last 16.
A team playing well in a tournament at home is hardly news but the fact Russia’s players have covered more ground and made more sprints than any other team has raised eyebrows, largely because of Russian sport’s recent record of endemic doping.
When a Russian journalist asked Cherchesov about the stats, he made three points: There is more to the team than running, his players were very fit at last summer’s Confederations Cup and are now even stronger, and they have the twin “motivations” of playing at a World Cup and in front of their own fans.
“Here are the A, B, Cs of why we are doing something better than the other teams here for the time being.”
However, when asked by a British journalist how many times his team have been drug-tested, he refused to answer, saying he was here to talk about the match and he was a coach, not a doctor.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has seen almost everything during his long career in international management, so Russia’s improvement once they started playing competitive games on home soil has not surprised him. He has noticed the running, though, saying: “They are a team with a lot of positives —there is their physical stamina and they are well-rounded side.”
Neither manager would comment on the number of changes they intend to make for this game, although Cherchesov said Alan Dzagoev had not travelled with the team while he recovers from an injury he picked up in the Saudi Arabia game and Tabarez confirmed their match-winner against Egypt, Jose Gimenez, was also out with an injury.
They were equally tight-lipped when asked if they would prefer to play Group B’s Portugal or Spain in the next round.
Cherchesov claimed he would leave that to the “football gods”, while Tabarez said his team were here “to play seven games” and were looking to improve after each one.
Veteran forward Edinson Cavani acknowledged that Gimenez’s absence will be a blow to the team but remains confident other players will help fill the gap.
“It is an important factor. Why? Because Jose Maria Gimenez has played at an excellent level,” Cavani said. “But as I’ve always said on prior occasions, this is a team. We are a team.”
Tabarez said it’s normal to have to adjust during tournaments and stressed that the team is prepared. “The match plan that we always have is to continue to work — until the match begins really. The fact that he has been injured doesn’t really change anything. We have the same notion of the match and the same plan for the match as before.”
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