MOSCOW, July 7 (Reuters) - The Kremlin dubbed the Russian national team heroes and proud Russian soccer fans saluted their team after the underdog host side lost on penalties to Croatia, bringing an end to its World Cup challenge at the quarter-finals.
Across Russia, hand-wringing fans had held their breath through extra time, hoping the team could pull off another upset in a World Cup they entered as the lowest ranking side, but which saw them reach the quarter finals against the odds.
The disappointment of defeat late on Saturday soon melted into applause as fans toasted a national side that had repeatedly defied expectations. Fans spilling out of bars chanted “Russia” in the street and danced as music blared.
“Our boys, they really did great. A huge thank you to them for this tournament. What we achieved, that was so cool,” Andrey, a lawyer, said next to a street corner screen that had shown the match.
President Vladimir Putin did not attend the game, but watched it remotely, saying the players were heroes despite the defeat and the country was proud of them, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying by Interfax.
“It was a great match. Well done to our guys, they tried very hard... I’m really happy that we made it to the quarters for the first time in history,” said Artyom Osadchy, a student.
Other fans looked to the future on the heels of Russia’s best World Cup performance since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“You can’t take the trophy straight away. It’s the first time we’re in the quarter finals in a very long time. You can’t have everything straight away. It was a very dignified game,” Evgenia, 36, a psychologist, said. (Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by David Gregorio)