Russian players have issued a rallying call for fans to be a 12th man for the team ahead of the historic meeting with Spain in the World Cup last 16 in Moscow on Sunday.
Russia are appearing in the World Cup knockout stages for the first time as an independent nation, but face a strong Spanish team tipped by many as potential tournament winners.
The World Cup hosts have surpassed expectations so far, recording a thumping 5-0 win against Saudi Arabia in their opening game before beating Egypt 3-1 in their second match to seal a spot in the knockout stages.
They faced a reality check against Uruguay in their final group game, losing 3-0, but head into the game against Spain at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium with hopes of pulling off a major upset.
Ahead of the match, the official team posted a video on its Instagram account in which Russian players thanked the home fans for their support so far, and issued a rallying call for them to be the team’s 12th man in the crucial clash with Spain.
“Dear fans, dear friends, I want to say a big thank you for supporting us in our three games so far, we felt your support,” said midfielder Roman Zobnin, who has played in every minute of Russia’s campaign so far.
“We’re expecting a really tough game against Spain, I know that everyone will go to the stadium, everyone will watch at home on TV.
“We’ll give 100 percent, support us, and we will try to make you happy,” the 24-year-old Spartak Moscow midfielder added.
Игроки сборной России обратились к болельщикам накануне исторического матча 1/8 финала Чемпионата мира против Испании. Ваша горячая поддержка очень помогала команде на групповом этапе, а на стадии плей-офф мы нуждаемся в ней ещё больше! Играй за нас! За всех! За каждого! ⠀ #СборнаяРоссии #ЧМ2018 #ИспанияРоссия #ВместеМыКоманда #ЗаНасЗаВсехЗаКаждого
Fellow midfielder Yury Gazinsky, who opened Russia’s 2018 World Cup account with the first goal in the rout against the Saudis, also addressed fans with a call for support.
“Guys, thank you all for your support. Only together can we achieve success. We’re all hoping for big support from you, together we are strong,” he said.
Denis Cheryshev, who has been a sensation at the World Cup so far, scoring a double in the opening game win and adding to his tally against Egypt, also said the team will need every bit of support from fans to overcome a talented Spanish team.
“Thank you to everyone for your support, guys, we’ll try to go further, to get past Spain and to make you proud,” said Cheryshev, who plays his club football in Spain for Villarreal.
Defender Ilya Kutepov, who has also been an ever-present in the Russian team, said: “Dear fans, a huge thank you for your warm support, thank you for supporting us.
“We have a very important match ahead of us against Spain, we’ll be waiting for you at the stadium. Together, we can achieve a lot.”
Russia return to the 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium for the game against Spain, which was the scene of their opening game win against the Saudis.
The atmosphere on that occasion was somewhat muted, perhaps due to the large number of neutral fans in attendance.
That is expected to change for the game against Spain, and Russia will hope to draw upon a cauldron of support for what promises to be a tough encounter.
Spain head into the game as heavy favorites, although they have been in uninspiring form in Russia so far.
Their preparations were thrown into turmoil ahead of the tournament when manager Julen Lopetegui was sacked after he was unexpectedly unveiled as the new Real Madrid coach.
Fernando Hierro has stepped in, but Spain only sparked sporadically in their three group stage games.
They drew 3-3 against Portugal in Sochi, before securing a narrow 1-0 win against Iran in their second game and drawing with Morocco 2-2 in their final group match – needing a late Iago Aspas goal to rescue them in the latter game.
Winger Rodrigo said on Friday that he is expecting a fervent atmosphere at Luzhniki as Russia seeks to take advantage of playing on home soil.
“We will not play against 11 players of the Russian national team, but against thousands of spectators at the stadium,” he said.
If Russia can pull off a shock, much of it could be down to 12th man at Luzhniki.