Russia breathes sigh of relief

China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-03 07:49

Russia breathed a collective sigh of relief on Friday after avoiding Spain and looking like the favorite to make it out of Group A in its first home World Cup.

"The ideal group!" the government-run R-Sport news agency shouted in a banner headline on its website.

Still, Russia will face a tough test in Luis Suarez's Uruguay, which also boasts Paris Saint-Germain triggerman Edinson Cavani. The other Group A teams are Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Egypt will be spearheaded by Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah, while Saudi Arabia is making its first trip to the World Cup since 2006.

With sport-mad President Vladimir Putin on hand for the draw, Russian coaches and pundits alike were in good spirits after avoiding a potential disaster of being drawn in a "Group of Death"

"I think that this is a perfect - even ideal - group," former Russia coach and three-time domestic Premier League champion Valery Gazzayev told R-Sport.

The Russian Football Union's honorary president Vyacheslav Koloskov agreed, saying: "We got lucky with the draw. We should be able to handle all those teams."

Russia will launch its campaign to win Group A against Saudi Arabia in Moscow's historic Luzhniki Stadium in the tournament's opening match on June 14.

Russia has not advanced beyond the first round in three World Cup appearances since 1991.

The pressure is on coach Stanislav Cherchesov - the former Spartak Moscow goalkeeper - to repeat Russia's dream run at Euro 2008.

The flamboyant team from nearly a decade ago stunned the Netherlands 3-1 in the quarterfinals before being beaten 3-0 by eventual champion Spain that year.

Cherchesov appeared to be trying to play it coy by saying he did not know much about the teams in his group.

"I cannot say whether I'm happy or not," he told reporters. "I'm not familiar with any of our group's teams.

"We just didn't want to get Spain from pot two."

Agence France-presse

(China Daily 12/03/2017 page12)

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