Russian inspiration at World Cup from Stanislav Cherchesov moustache, say fans
By Alex Marrow, SSN in St Petersburg
Last Updated: 02/07/18 12:03am
Russian fans believe they can win the World Cup thanks to manager Stanislav Cherchesov - but it is not just his tactics proving to be inspirational.
Sky Sports News reporter Alex Marrow was in St Petersburg at the weekend to find out more...
Stanislav Cherchesov's moustache did not so much as twitch when Igor Akinfeev denied Iago Aspas from the penalty spot and sent the hosts into the quarter-finals.
Inside Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, players and fans were ecstatic, but Russia's manager Cherchesov was the embodiment of calm.
Russia had never made it past the group stages at a World Cup, and the Soviet Union last went this deep in the tournament in Mexico 1970.
Russians have been starved of footballing competence for decades, aside from an Andrey Arshavin-inspired trip to the semi-finals of the European Championship in 2008, but Cherchesov, who played as a goalkeeper for the USSR, CIS and Russia, has injected some hope.
Before the tournament, Russians were deeply pessimistic about their chances with one win since the Confederations Cup, a 4-2 triumph over South Korea, leaving many concerned they may embarrass themselves against Saudi Arabia in the opening game.
Yulia, a waitress from St Petersburg, said: "No one expected anything before the tournament, so we are delighted now.
"Cherchesov has done so, so well, and he has the moustache of hope."
The manager's facial hair has indeed become an unlikely source of inspiration in Russia.
Television talk show host Ivan Urgant encouraged Russians to back the team by sporting moustaches before the World Cup kicked off and people across the country have jumped on the facial hair bandwagon.
But Cherchesov has brought more than just luck to this Russian side, demonstrating management skills that many considered beyond him.
He has been tactically astute, switching from a fluid attacking system to the rigid, defensive line-up with three at the back that thwarted Spain.
In Russia's opener, Aleksandr Golovin was free to roam and create, putting in a superb performance as the hosts ran riot, beating Saudi Arabia 5-0.
Alan Dzagoev was forced off early on due to injury, but Denis Cheryshev was excellent in his place, scoring twice and once more against Egypt.
A pre-tournament injury to Zenit St Petersburg striker Aleksandr Kokorin led to a call-up for Artem Dzyuba, who levelled for Russia from the penalty spot against Spain.
Cherchesov was not afraid to leave in-form striker Fyodor Smolov out of the side when Dzyuba's physical presence became a thorn in opposing team's sides.
Andrey, a bar manager in St Petersburg, admitted that his opinion of Cherchesov had changed.
He said: "He has done really well, and has managed the players very well. I wasn't expecting much, but you have to say he has done an excellent job."
In Russia's biggest ever game, Cherchesov's plan to soak up Spanish pressure prevailed, with 38-year-old defender Sergey Ignashevich marshalling from the back.
Even then, Cherchesov threw Smolov and Cheryshev into the mix from the bench, both of whom scored penalties in the ensuing shootout.
It was perhaps fitting that fellow goalkeeper Akinfeev was the hero, denying Koke and Aspas as Russia won the shootout 4-3.
As the players and coaching staff ran towards their captain, Cherchesov remained where he was, resolute, unsmiling and saluting the crowd.
His personal website describes his coaching philosophy as 'Forward without fear and doubt'.
Russia certainly seem to fear no one and are marching on in this World Cup, proving along the way that they are both adaptable and difficult to beat.
With Cherchesov and his moustache, don't be surprised if they win again.