Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov paid tribute to his team after their World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of Croatia in a penalty shootout.
Russia reached the quarter-finals for the first time since not playing as part of the Soviet Union, and the team exceeded expectations in knocking out Spain in the last round before running a much-fancied Croatia team incredibly close in Sochi.
In the end, the team went down to an agonizing 4-3 penalty shootout defeat after the scores had finished level at 2-2 following extra-time.
Russia’s unlikely World Cup run has captured the imagination of the nation, with celebrations the length and breadth of the country after each of the team’s wins in the tournament.
Cherchesov, who faced heavy criticism going into the tournament, but has emerged from it as a national hero, gave his thoughts after the defeat to Croatia consigned his team to a heart-breaking exit.
“It’s a shame we lost, I think we deserved more, we played good football, with good players. In principle, we played as we planned, [but] the goals we conceded, we shouldn’t have conceded, but that’s football,” 54-year-old former international ‘keeper said.
Russia have played at four different stadiums during their five World Cup 2018 games, and Cherchesov paid tribute to the home fans for their support.
“I’m grateful to the players… thanks to all the fans for their support, it’s thanks to them that we managed to get so far,” he added.
Cherchesov was calm enough to reflect on the nature of the defeat to Croatia, which had seen his team take the lead through a stunning Denis Cheryshev goal, before falling behind to two Croatia headers, and then equalizing deep into extra time - setting the stage for penalties.
“We can’t live on emotions, we had a lot of mistakes, we needed to change some things, there were enough things that we didn’t plan, our opponents also forced us into mistakes,” he said.
Cherchesov had gone into the tournament as a much-maligned coach, with the team on a run of seven games without a win and as the lowest-ranked team in the tournament.
“At the World Cup we didn’t have the best players, [but] we had a team, from the first days we said that,” Cherchesov said.
“Everyone is worthy of respect, each of 23 players gave their all,” he added.