Russia tries to put brave face on early Confed Cup exit

AFP , Sunday 25 Jun 2017

Russia forward Fedor Smolov (L) vies for the ball against Mexico defender Diego Reyes during the 2017 Confederations Cup group A match in Kazan on June 24, 2017 (AFP)

Russia struggled for positives Sunday after they crashed out of the Confederations Cup on home soil in an ominous sign of how the hosts might fare at next year's World Cup.

Football bosses shrugged off fans' fears after the team's early exit following a 2-1 defeat by Mexico in Kazan on Saturday, insisting the squad was making progress despite the disappointing results.

"The tournament is unfortunately over for us but we want to thank the fans," coach Stanislav Cherchesov said in a video statement to supporters.

"While in sporting terms we didn't manage to acheive what we wanted, in terms of morale then I think we took a step forward. Better times await us."

Expectations among Russian fans were low ahead of the Confederations Cup as the national team struggled for form in a series of warm-up games.

Former goalkeeper Cherchesov has largely failed to get his players firing despite overhauling the squad since he was appointed less than a year ago after Russia's woeful showing at Euro 2016.

He insisted that he would remain in charge with 12 months to go to the World Cup.

"Three quarters of the squad have never played at this level, and with new players coming through all the time I'm optimistic about the future," he said in his post-game press conference.

"I've worked with pleasure and will continue my work with the team. Probably even better than I'm doing now."

Russia, who started the Confederations Cup with a win over New Zealand, crashed out of the event after the group stage following consecutive defeats at the hands of European champions Portugal and the most decorated CONCACAF team Mexico.

Television footage showed some furious fans walking out of the Kazan stadium before the final whistle in Saturday's game against Mexico.

"Shame on them! They showed no will to win! It's just impossible to play for the country that way," one fan told state TV.

But while football pundits in the country insisted that any anger was understandable, they said the supporters had to face up to the fact that, with the World Cup looming, the country needs to put its faith in the current batch of players.

"We all need to realise that we don't have another team," Dmitry Zelenov, an expert for the Sport Express newspaper, wrote.

"There should not be despair but faith. Faith that despite the flop we're moving in the right direction.

"There's a strong desire to kill this squad. It's a justified wish. But we shouldn't kill it. Because we don't have another one."

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