Russia talk a good game ahead of World Cup clash against Saudi Arabia

Stanislav Cherchesov is a man under pressure as the big kick-off nears.
Updated 13 June 2018
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Russia talk a good game ahead of World Cup clash against Saudi Arabia

  • Hosts under a lot of pressure to get a good result in front of their fans in Moscow.
  • Stanislav Cherchesov says mood is good in the camp ahead of Saudi Arabia opener.

MOSCOW: Deep in the bowels of the cavernous Luzhniki Stadium, drowned out by distorted feedback, Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov suggested that such is the pressurized atmosphere ahead of today’s World Cup opening match, even his microphone could not withstand it.
Russia arrive at their own tournament as the lowest-ranked side of the 32 teams and without a win in nine international matches. Having qualified as hosts, their last victory came in October against South Korea and they have since lost to Argentina, Brazil, France and Austria while drawing with Iran, Spain and, most recently, Turkey. 
Today, against Saudi Arabia in Moscow, they are aiming to avoid becoming the first host nation to lose a tournament curtain-raiser. And if Cherchesov, who has been at the helm for two years, was not already aware of the expectations upon his side, Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier this week made it quite clear. 
Yet while scathing criticism from local press has forced some Russian players to close their social media accounts and former players — including former Manchester United winger Andrei Kanchelskis — have described the team as one of the worst ever, Cherchesov cut a jovial figure 24 hours before the big kick-off. 
“Our mood is very good. We are ready for work. We did a lot of work back in Austria and have reached a good level. Against Turkey, we showed the kind of game we want to play,” the 54-year-old said. 
“Every coach has to accept criticism. I don’t read anything and stay focused on my job. We are trying to do what we’re doing — the fact we are getting criticised, that’s a natural thing in the world we live in today. We want to do everything we can to turn criticism into positive feedback and we have everything we need to do that.”
Cherchesov revealed his team have been trying to relax by playing Trivial Pursuit, but the most pressing question is whether they are capable of beating a Saudi Arabia team appearing at a world finals for the first time since 2006. Aleksandr Samedov, the team’s veteran right-back, said he and his teammates watched the Green Falcons’ most recent
defeats to Italy and Germany and are well-prepared. Now all he hopes is his compatriots show more support.
“(Saudi Arabia) are a very technically-minded team,” said Samedov, who spent Tuesday analyzing the Saudi
attack and planned last night to do similar with the opponents’ defence.
“They like to hold the ball and our objective is not to let them keep it, which is what we will try to do. We would all love it if there could be a bit more positive spirit around our team, but we have to contribute and generate this positivity, which would then emanate through the press. We will try to demonstrate this at the World Cup.”
Cherchesov confirmed that he has a full squad to choose from with
players carrying minor injuries
having managed to recover, adding that he believed his team had “improved considerably” since last year’s
Confederations Cup, where they won their opening match 2-0 against New Zealand but lost to Portugal and Mexico to crash out at the group stage.


Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

Updated 23 September 2018
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Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

  • The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title
  • Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2

CAIRO: Al-Ahly coach Patrice Carteron has warned his players against complacency in their forthcoming African Champions League semifinal clash against Setif of Algeria, even though his side swept through with a 4-0 quarterfinal second-leg victory over Guinea’s Horoya in Cairo on Saturday.
The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title with the win against the Guineans after a goalless first leg. From the moment Walid Soliman opened the scoring after 32 minutes at the Al-Salam Stadium, the result was never in doubt as the Reds put in a dominant performance.
Second half goals from Islam Mohareb, Salah Mohsen and Ahmed Fathy confirmed the win.
“It was a good performance, especially as the pitch was poor,” Carteron said. “We are happy to go through but we controlled the game, especially in the second half when we were at our best. We adjusted our offensive strategy at the break and that made a difference.”
Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2.
“We know that the game will be very tough as Setif are a strong team but this is the semifinal of the Champions League, you know that any game is going to be tough,” added the Frenchman.
Setif defeated defending champions Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 1-0 on aggregate and will host Al-Ahly in Algeria in the second leg on Oct. 23.
“Setif were the champions in 2014 and we know that we are going to have be at our best if we are going to the final,” said the 48 year-old, who also coached TP Mazembe of Congo to the 2015 title. He is aiming to deliver similar success for Al-Ahly, who last lifted the trophy in 2013.
“When I took the job three months ago, the target was clear: to win the Champions League. That is still the objective and we have taken a big step toward that today.
“Standards in the competition are getting better all the time and results in the quarterfinal show this,” Carteron said, adding that he and his players had taken note of how Mazembe had been knocked out at the last-eight stage.
“Now we are in the semifinal and we have to prepare as well as we can to face Setif. It will be a big challenge but we are looking forward to it.”
Setif reached the semifinal after a 0-0 draw in the second leg in Morocco on Friday to take the tie 1-0 on aggregate following a win on Algerian soil a week earlier.
Goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba was the star of the show in Casablanca and made a number of fine saves to deny the defending champions.
It was a feather in the cap for coach Rachid Taoussi, a Moroccan who coached Wydad from 2002 to 2003.
“We managed this game very well,” Taoussi said. “We withstood the pressure. It is not easy to keep out such a team, especially with their fans behind them. In the end they had to play long balls and that made it easier for us to defend.”
While Morocco may have lost its sole representative left in the competition, Taoussi is flying the flag for his homeland. “I am proud to be Moroccan. I respect Wydad and the supporters a lot. It’s not easy for anyone to come here and play like we did.
“It is also a demonstration for those who constantly criticize the skills of Moroccan coaches. I’m so happy. That said, the most important thing for us now is to think about going even further in this competition, that is, reaching the final. We have one more step to go; we will give everything until the end.”
The other semifinal sees a third North African team trying to reach the showpiece event as Esperance de Tunis take on Clube Desportivo de Agosto of Angola.