Russia’s impressive running statistics at the World Cup are based on hard work and motivation, not thanks to doping, national team coach Stanislav Cherchesov has insisted.
The 54-year-old was speaking to reporters before Monday’s Group A decider between Uruguay and Russia in Samara, with both teams already certain of knockout football after beating Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Russia came into the tournament on a terrible run of form and with a FIFA ranking of 70th – the lowest ever for a host nation at a World Cup – but eight goals in two games have seen Cherchesov’s men stroll into the last 16.
A team playing well in a tournament at home is hardly news but the fact that Russia’s players have covered more ground and made more sprints than any other team has raised eyebrows, largely because of Russian sport’s recent record of endemic doping.
When a Russian journalist asked Cherchesov about the stats, he made three points: there is more to the team than running, his players were very fit at last summer’s Confederations Cup and are now even stronger and they have the twin “motivations” of playing at a World Cup and doing so in front of their own fans.
“Here are the A, B, Cs of why we are doing something better than the other teams here for the time being,” he said.
However, when asked by a British journalist how many times his team have been drug-tested he refused to answer, saying he was here to talk about the match and he was a coach, not a doctor.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has seen almost everything during his long career in international management, so Russia’s improvement once they started playing competitive games on home soil has not surprised him.
He has noticed the running, though, saying: “They are a team with a lot of positives – there is their physical stamina and they are well-rounded side.”
Neither manager would comment on the number of changes they intend to make for this game, although Cherchesov said Alan Dzagoev had not travelled with the team while he recovers from an injury he picked up in the Saudi Arabia game and Tabarez confirmed their match-winner against Egypt, Jose Gimenez, was also out with an injury.
They were equally tight-lipped when asked if they would prefer to play Group B’s Portugal or Spain in the next round.
Cherchesov claimed he would leave that to the “football gods”, while Tabarez said his team were here “to play seven games” and were looking to improve after each one.