Jose Mourinho has congratulated Russia on hosting a successful World Cup and on the performance of the national team in reaching the quarter-finals, and says he hopes the experience will be used to develop the game in Russia.
Mourinho was speaking to RT in his exclusive role as a World Cup pundit and summed up his thoughts on the tournament, which concluded when France beat Croatia in the final in Moscow on Sunday.
He noted the performance of the hosts in reaching the quarter-final stage, where they lost to Croatia on penalties after a thrilling game had seen the scores finish level at 2-2 following extra time.
It was a run few had expected, and Mourinho was full of praise of the hosts.
“I remember the week when I arrived in Moscow [before the start of the World Cup] and everyone was super pessimistic. And I told them, ‘no, no, no…’ I told that probably you go to the knockouts, and you will be knocked out, but in the group phase you are going to do it for sure, against Saudi Arabia, against Egypt, you are going to do it for sure – which they did.”
Russia surprised many by beating Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their opening game before seeing off Egypt 3-1 in their next match to book their place in the knockout stages. Once there, they beat Spain in a thrilling penalty shootout, before losing on penalties to Croatia in the quarter-finals.
“They created step by step a certain atmosphere between the players and the manager, and then when people started looking at the way they were fighting, they way they were giving everything, people started believing a bit more, started supporting them more, then when the Spain day arrived people understood they were ready to do everything to try to do it,” Mourinho said.
“They did very, very well, and they promoted the country, they showed the potential, and the way they lost is the way that hurts a lot, but at the same time you lose with great pride, you fight until the end, you score in the end of extra time, you go to penalties, you lose on this casino, but the way was fantastic.”
Mourinho said he hoped that the World Cup experience would bring a further boost for the game in Russia, given the investments it had made in infrastructure and new stadiums for the tournament.
“I hope the facilities, the fantastic stadiums to attract more people, and the work that was done on infrastructure for all the teams for the teams, training grounds, academies, training places, I think they have to use for the development of the kids and the team, and try to produce players and try to get even better Russian league, more competitive,” the Manchester United manager said.
He pointed to the new UEFA Nations League – in which Russia will appear in League B in a group with Sweden and Turkey – would be a good starting point for the team to kick on.
“I think the Nations Cup is also a good way to develop, because it’s motivation to play against countries of your level... who knows, by winning that competition, the Nations Cup, even if it’s not at the highest level, but at the second, the third level, for the other national teams can be a fact of motivation…
“So look forward and be positive, and congratulations to Russia in terms of organization but also in terms of the national team,” Mourinho concluded.