World Cup hosts Russia were outsiders only weeks ago but their unexpected World Cup success has made them hungry for more as they prepare to take on Croatia for a semifinal spot, defender Ilya Kutepov said on Wednesday.
Russia edged Spain on penalties in last week’s round-of-16 match after the Spaniards played more than 1,000 passes but failed to create any chances.
Kutepov, who has so far played every minute of their four matches, said his team was now allowed to dream big.
Since the end of the Soviet Union, which had reached the last four in 1966, Russia have never advanced as far as they have done in their home tournament.
“There are always chances. We are getting ready, focusing,” Kutepov said. “We have ambitions, we want to go further, everything is decided on the pitch. It is a kind of addiction — you want more and more.”
The Russians came into the tournament as the lowest-ranked team and making it through the group stage was their initial goal.
After their penalty shootout win over Spain, however, the country has been gripped by World Cup fever with Russian fans wanting more of that success.
That will require different tactics than the ones deployed against Spain where Russia sat back and soaked up the pressure with the Spaniards dominating possession but lacking a clinical edge in front of goal.
“We all understood that Spain will control the ball, it happens in every match they play with any team,” midfielder Aleksandr Golovin was quoted by Match TV as saying.
“We understood that. With the Croats we should play using our strong points, dictating our play.”
Russia face Croatia at Sochi’s Fisht Stadium on Saturday and the winner will play either England or Sweden for a spot in the July 15 final in Moscow.
“If the team has less control of the ball it doesn’t mean they are weaker,” Golovin said. “That’s just another style of play. They don’t aim to control the ball for the whole match, they aim to achieve a favourable result. From this point of view — it’s easier.
“The team that will show more muscle and will be more stubborn will win the game against Croatia.”