World Cup hosts Russia ‘not a footballing nation’

Moscow (AFP) – Former Russia coach Leonid Slutsky has some blunt advice for the World Cup hosts: admit that you are not a “footballing nation” and move on.

Slutsky’s stark assessment came in the wake of two humbling home defeats to Brazil and France last month.

Pundits and the media appeared ready to shrug off the 3-0 beating by Brazil as something Russia might expect from the five-time world champions.

But the mood soured considerably following a listless 3-1 loss to a French team that were not at their best.

Slutsky appeared on a football programme on Monday to defend his assessment that Russia were simply not very adept at the sport.

“When I say that we are not a footballing nation, I do it so that we can figure out why,” Russia’s Euro 2016 manager said.

“The fact that we are not the strongest team in the world is obvious to everyone. It is very important to admit this in order to move on.”

Slutsky then took the unorthodox step of comparing the state of Russian football to alcoholism.

“This is like in Alcoholics Anonymous, when you come in and say: ‘I am so and so and I have a problem’,” the 46-year-old said.

“This is where the recovery and some sort of progress begins.”

Slutsky is a genial personality who gained a strong following among fans when he led CSKA Moscow to three domestic titles between 2012 and 2016.

But his Russia side were knocked out of Euro 2016 in the group stage and he was replaced by Stanislav Cherchesov that same year.

The pressure on Cherchesov to — at the very least — secure Russia a place in the last 16 of their first home World Cup is immense.

A new crisis in relations between Moscow and the West has only added political significance to the occasion.

Cherchesov has done his best to lift team morale and find the silver lining from Russia’s latest losses.

The former Spartak Moscow goalkeeper said on Monday that Russia needed to play former world champions to figure out where they stood.

He also reminded supporters that Russia lost just 1-0 to Argentina and drew 3-3 with Spain in November.

“We accomplished the things that we had set out for ourselves,” Cherchesov told Match TV.

“It is just a shame that our third game with Brazil did not come right after the Spain one.”

Russia and Uruguay are considered favourites to progress from a World Cup Group A that also includes Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

But Slutsky said Russia should set themselves longer-term goals.

“I have spent a lot of time thinking about how we can use the legacy of the World Cup,” he said.

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