(Reuters) - A reinvigorated Russian side are hitting top form ahead of their World Cup opener against Saudi Arabia on Thursday, the tournament hosts’ manager Stanislav Cherchesov has said.
Russia have not won an international match since a friendly win over South Korea last October and their pre-World Cup outings have resulted in defeats by France and Austria along with a draw with Turkey.
The slump has led to Russia being the lowest ranked team in the 32-team tournament as they occupy 70th position in the FIFA rankings but Cherchesov believes his side can pose a challenge.
“The mood is good. We’re about to reach the level we had planned. We’ve become way more fresh,” Cherchesov told a news conference on Wednesday.
“We have been studying our opponents from day one. There are no weak teams in any of the groups. The first game is important as it will set the tone to a certain extent. We are trying to iron out any kinks we have.”
Cherchesov will be out of contract with the national team shortly after the conclusion of the World Cup and the 54-year-old says he would like to continue in his role.
Russia last progressed past the World Cup group stage in 1986, as part of the Soviet Union team. However, striker Fedor Smolov, the top scorer under Cherchesov with seven goals, believes the hosts will be extra motivated to reach the last-16.
"This is a special event for any country in this position that will stay in the memory for many years to come... I'm sure we'll show what we're capable of at the World Cup," Smolov said in an interview with FIFA www.fifa.com/worldcup/news.
“At this point, the objective is to get out of the group. I hope we achieve this, then afterwards we’ll see.”
Russia winger Aleksandr Samedov echoed his team mates sentiments saying the team must seal their progression to the knockout stage “no matter what.”
Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge