SAMARA, Russia (AP) Coach Stanislav Cherchesov insists Russia’s success at the World Cup is about much more than home-team advantage.
Russia will face its toughest challenge – so far – against Uruguay. The undefeated teams play Monday in Samara for the top spot in their group, with both already assured a spot in the knockout round.
”It is not an accident that we have two wins under our belt,” Cherchesov said. ”It is a group that works together well. It is a group of solidarity and cohesion.”
It is the farthest Russia has advanced in the post-Soviet era. And it will no doubt get harder following the match against Luis Suarez and Uruguay because the top finishers in Group A go on to face the best two from Group B, which includes Portugal and Spain.
The hosts entered the tournament with the lowest FIFA ranking in the field at No. 70. Russia comes to Samara following a 5-0 victory in the opener against Saudi Arabia with Vladimir Putin on hand, followed by a 3-1 win over Egypt to spoil Mohamed Salah’s World Cup.
Cherchesov said preparation is the key to Russia’s success.
”We did our homework,” he said. ”We learned from our mistakes that didn’t allow us to be successful in the past.”
Uruguay, however, is a much more skilled team than Russia’s first two opponents. Ranked No. 14, La Celeste defeated Egypt 1-0 in its tournament opener and then had the same result against Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
Uruguay is making its 12th appearance at the World Cup, which it won in 1930 and 1950. More recently, the team finished fourth in South Africa in 2010 and made the round of 16 in Brazil four years ago.
Because Russia has the advantage in goal differential, it would win the group with a draw. Still, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez sees the match as an opportunity to fine-tune the team for the next round.
”We have to work on a few aspects. We will be playing against Russia. They’re playing at home for their public, so it will be a great atmosphere,” Tabarez said. ”It’s a great opportunity for us to test improvements in the team.”
Denis Cheryshev, who some thought might not play much at the World Cup, leads Russia with three goals. The only players with more in the tournament are Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku – both established international stars.
It’s quite an accomplishment for Cheryshev, the Villarreal player who failed to score in his previous 11 appearances with the national team.
”I could never have dreamed of anything like this,” Cheryshev said.
Lucas Torreira, the 22-year-old defensive midfielder for Uruguay, addressed the persistent rumors that he’s headed to Arsenal. But he didn’t say much.
”Arsenal is a good team, one of the most important in the world, but at this moment I am focused on playing for my country,” he told reporters following the match against Saudi Arabia.
Tabarez would not reveal whether Torreira would start against Russia.
The last time these teams played was in a 2012 friendly in Moscow. Suarez scored in a 1-1 draw. The old Soviet Union played Uruguay twice in World Cup matches, with the teams splitting the results.
Russian left back Yuri Zhirkov was subbed out of the match against Egypt because of an ankle injury but was expected to return to full training on Saturday. Midfielder Alan Dzagoev has a hamstring injury sustained in the opener against Saudi Arabia but may return in the knockout round.
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