In an interview with FIFA.com, Russia head coach Stanislav Cherchesov drew some conclusions from the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and revealed his expectations for the tournament next year.

FIFA.com: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay. Your first impressions after the draw?
Stanislav Cherchesov: I cannot say if the group’s good or bad for us yet, I have to gather information. The only evident advantage for us that I can see right now is that we will have tougher opponents with each game: first one – against a team from 4 Pot, last one – a game against a 2 Pot Team.

Russia will open the event against Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on 14 June. Is there anything you already know about the first opponent?
I won’t lie, I’ve never seen them play before. I just know that [Juan Antonio] Pizzi took charge of the team recently. In a couple of weeks I could probably tell you some more details.

What are your expectations for this World Cup?
Our goal is very clear, it didn’t change after the draw. We should qualify for the knockout stage and then we’ll see what’s going to happen.

Did the team gain confidence from the recent 3-3 draw with Spain, one of the best national teams in the world?
Both the result and, more importantly, the performance pleased the fans. They’ll head into the new year in a positive frame of mind, knowing that we’re on the right track. Everyone’s sense of optimism and hope have taken a boost after this game. We should give due credit to the Russian Football Union, who in a short period of time managed to find the team such top-level opponents as Argentina and Spain. Ignoring the FIFA Confederations Cup, we haven’t had any competitive matches this year, so we’ve tried to get the most out of the situation we’ve found ourselves in.

What key changes have taken place in the Russian national team since August 2016, when you took over the side?
There are two things to be mentioned. Firstly, we’ve brought the average age of the squad down. Our young players are not just receiving call-ups, they are actually playing in the starting line-up – guys like Daler Kuzyayev, Roman Zobnin, Aleksandr Golovin, Georgi Dzhikiya, Andrei Lunyov and the Miranchuk brothers. Secondly, we’ve changed our formation and switched to three at the back. The Sbornaya had a different system before, but there’s an explanation for everything. Former leaders of the side, like the Berezutsky brothers and Sergei Ignashevich, called time on their international careers, so we had to adapt to the new circumstances. The guys currently occupying the defensive spots for the national team also play in that formation for their club sides.

Where does the team need to improve from a tactical point of view?
We need to find balance in defence and attack, so that we can get results while playing attractive football. We’ve managed to achieve this in quite a few matches, but against Argentina (a 1-0 defeat) for example we didn’t. We were organised and played well in defence against the Argentinians, but we didn’t look that impressive going forward and this tainted the overall performance. Of course, we were up against excellent opposition, facing the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Javier Mascherano. Nevertheless, we should have done better in attack. We were much more threatening against Spain.

One of the most talented players in Russia, Alan Dzagoev, has already missed a few major tournaments through injury. Will you be relying on the midfielder as one of your key players at Russia 2018?
With Dzagoev, you can’t say he’s good at some things but weak at others. He’s got the whole package: good technique, pace, ability on the ball and vision. He can pass well and finish off moves. Unfortunately, Alan is highly injury prone and this is a shame for him and us. It’s pleasing to see that recently he’s had a run of game at CSKA Moscow. He’s an important player for us and I really hope he’ll be fit next summer.

Will Igor Akinfeev remain as captain of the team at the World Cup?
We are not even considering anyone else for the role of captain. Akinfeev is a vital player for us. As goalkeeper, he has performed at a consistently high level for club and country over many years. His role as keeper and captain is important both on the pitch and off it. He’s capable of bailing us out and changing the course of a game when we need it most.

Russia are going into a World Cup on home soil backed by their passionate supporters. Does that give you a significant advantage over your opponents?
I don’t know how much of an advantage it is, but it’s definitely not a disadvantage. We experienced the fans’ support at the Confederations Cup already and it seems to me that our bond with them has got even stronger in recent outings. We hope we can win over even more fans in the build-up to the World Cup.

Performance-wise, what are your expectations for the World Cup?
The World Cup is the highest achievement in this sport, so we must fight for the highest honours. We wanted to qualify from the group at the Confederations Cup and compete for the title, but ultimately, we didn’t meet our target. At the same time, however, the team put in a decent display and gave cause for some optimism among our fans. We’d like the sporting side of things to be more successful at Russia 2018. Firstly, we have to get out of the group and then we’ll see what’s next.


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