World Cup hosts Russia gear up to meet Spain in Moscow on Sunday with their raucous home support at the magnificent Luzhniki Stadium focused on revenge for defeat in the Euro 2008 semi-final.
Spain defeated Russia 3-0 in that match, eventually going on to win the tournament in Switzerland, beginning one of the most famous football dynasties that preceded a World Cup 2010 win and another European crown in 2012.
The Euro 2008 semi-final is the furthest Russia have ever advanced in a major tournament, and while the showing was treated as a huge success, the defeat to Spain nevertheless gives added impetus on Sunday for Russia to avenge the loss on home soil.
If Russia have any chance of doing that, they must call on each and every supporter in the magnificent Luzhniki Stadium to become their ‘12th man’ on the field.
The players have already issued an official call to the fans. Midfielder Roman Zobnin, who has played in every minute of Russia’s campaign so far, said: “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.”
“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.
The importance of the supporters has not gone unnoticed by the Spain players either. Winger Rodrigo admitted the team will not be playing against one team but “thousands of supporters,” and admitted that caution must be applied by his teammates.
"For us the most important thing is to play against Russia right. We will not play against 11 players of Russian national team, but against thousands spectators on the stadium," he said.
Russia will also have a secret weapon in their ranks with their top scorer Denis Cheryshev. Having only gotten his chance at the tournament by virtue of an injury to Alan Dzagoev in the opening game versus Saudi Arabia, Cheryshev has gone on to net three goals in three games.
The winger plays his club football in Spain with Villarreal, and is a fluent Spanish speaker having spent his childhood in the country due to his father, who played as a professional there.
A graduate of Real Madrid’s football academy, Cheryshev will be desperate to show the Spanish players how football is played in his homeland.
Cheryshev is Russia’s top scorer with three goals in the tournament so far, and Russia are among the tournament top scorers, with eight goals in the group stage. They may fancy their chances against a Spain side that has leaked five goal in two games, and a goalkeeper seriously lacking in confidence in David de Gea.
Another underperforming player in Spain’s squad is captain Sergio Ramos, who played in that game a decade ago. At fault for a couple of goals in qualifying, Russia could seize their chance to heap misery on perhaps the most vilified man in football.