Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov has told his team to ignore media criticism ahead of Thursday’s World Cup kick-off against Saudi Arabia and focus on winning.
The host nation enter their first home World Cup in the worst possible form.
They have beaten both Russian and Soviet records by going winless in seven matches and slumping to 70th in the world, the lowest of the 32 teams in the tournament.
Newspaper headlines are asking not whether Russia stand a chance of lifting their first World Cup trophy but if things can possibly get any worse.
“We have to take all the criticism and turn it into something positive,” Cherchesov told reporters after the team’s final practise at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
The imposing 80,000-seat arena has been rebuilt from the days it hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics and will be the venue of both Thursday’s tournament kickoff and the July 15 final. President Vladimir Putin has already said he expects to see much better from Russia when he arrives in Luzhniki for the opening ceremony.
“We very much expect — all fans and lovers of football in Russia — expect the team to play with dignity, for them to show modern, interesting football, and to fight until the end,” Putin said last week.
Russia vs Saudi Arabia
6pm kick-off at Luzhniki Stadium