Seven thousand miles away inside the Arena da Baixada, Fabio Capello could only stand and watch as Islam Slimani ran off in celebration and Igor Akinfeev protested about a laser blinding him from the crowd.
Algeria were level and going through to the last-16. Russia were out – again.
That was in Brazil four years ago where the acrimonious group stage exit brought about a parliamentary enquiry. Capello, the highest paid coach at the entire tournament, was branded a ‘thief’ and given they were to host the next tournament, this would not be allowed to happen again.
Fabio Capello was the last boss to lead Russia into a World Cup as they flopped and went out
Striker Islam Slimani dumped Russia out in Brazil and the exit caused a parliamentary enquiry
But having not won a game since October 2017 – a 2-0 win over South Korea, courtesy of two own goals – there is an overwhelming doomsday feeling among Russian supporters that the next few weeks could show them up to be the worst host nation ever.
On the pitch – the fears are evident. But off it, there are even greater concerns after the 3-1 friendly defeat to France in March in Saint-Petersburg was marred by racist chants towards Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembele and N’Golo Kante.
‘I do not think we have racism on a scale that needs to be fought,’ Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said at the time, but nonetheless a £22,000 fine was issued and the watching world saw the challenge ahead.
Racist taunts towards France trio N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Ousmane Demeble marred March’s friendly and saw Russia handed a £22,000 fine as punishment for fan behaviour
There is a concern that Russia will have opponents on and off the pitch during this month
SOUTH AFRICA EXIT
When Bafana Bafana saw their home World Cup brought to a close after a 2-1 defeat against a woeful France side, there was an overwhelming sense of pride, rather than anger.
Third in the group and only edged out by Mexico on goal difference, there was not a sense of national humiliation at the early exit.
South African President Jacob Zuma said following the France win: ‘You have done South Africa proud.’
Only time will tell if Vladimir Putin will be as diplomatic eight years on…
The beauty of a World Cup is witnessing cultures combine for a carnival atmosphere of football – but with fears of homophobic and racist remarks being venomously spat from the terraces, Russia are firefighting on and off the pitch on the eve of the tournament opener.
In the history of the World Cup, only South Africa in 2010 have failed to successfully navigate their group – but few from Moscow to Volgograd are holding out much hope they won’t join them.
Sepp Blatter opened the envelope and read out Russia’s name as hosts of the 2018 World Cup 2,751 days ago. In that time the team has regressed badly.
A Euro 2016 exit – all but confirmed following a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Wales – only heightened the anger and panic of a nation on a squad lacking any self-belief or tactical understanding.
They’ve slipped to an all-time low ranking of 70 in the world making them the lowest ranked host nation in the tournament’s 88-year history.
The sense of desperation among supporters to be spared of further embarrassment on home soil has seen various enterprises – some trivial, some with plenty of support – emerge.
Television host Ivan Urgant encouraged supporters to grow a moustache in the style of head coach Cherchesov to lend their support to the ailing stars.
In a bid to generate luck, fans have been ‘growing’ a moustache like boss Stanislav Cherchesov
‘Everything is against him now: expectations, the weather, the laws of physics, the anatomy of certain footballers and just plain-old logic,’ Urgant told viewers.
Another group of supporters took to YouTube to propose a People’s XI after the dismal Euro 2016. The premise was that regular citizens would play against the national team and the winner would represent the country this summer; the fans were willing to play ‘for free’ – they just want change.
‘Russian population = 146 million,’ the video begins. ‘Is it really that hard to find 11 good footballers? ‘We want to organise our own people’s [football] team. They don’t earn millions [of dollars] per year, but they can handle the ball as good as the ‘Millionaires’ team.’
And then there are those who simply want the national team disbanded. An online petition is closing in on one million signatures.
An online petition to get the national team disbanded is closing in on one million signatures
Put simply, Russians, including president Vladimir Putin, are sweating over their group and their team.
But as far as the overall strengths of the eight groups go, Group A, housing Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay, is arguably the weakest.
Uruguay, with a star-studded front line of Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani and Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, will naturally be favourites to top the group but the runners-up position will be the aim for the three remaining teams.
Egypt boss Hector Cuper has Liverpool sensation Mohamed Salah has, potentially, a fit and firing in his corner while both Saudi Arabia and Russia lack their own Galactico to turn to.
But while only four per cent of Russia’s public said in a recent survey they think they will escape the group, Cherchesov is playing a far more positive tune on the eve of the tournament.
‘We need to be a really strong host,’ Cherchesov said recently. ‘We can’t face Germany until the semifinals or finals. If we get that far, I’ll be the happiest man in the world.’
In Russia’s group, they will come up against Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
Igor Akinfeev, error-strewn in both Brazil 2014 and Euro 2016, is again set to start in goal
Igor Akinfeev, part of the side humiliated in Brazil under Capello, will again be between the posts while 38-year-old defender Sergei Ignashevich is likely to get a starting berth in the opening game against Saudi Arabia on June 14.
Both players’ inclusions in the squad point to a glaring lack of options across the park. Injury to Zenit striker Aleksandr Kokorin is a body blow – he is one of the few stars held in high regard among some of Europe’s elite clubs.
The opening game is likely to set the tone for Russia. Defeat and Putin may start searching for the big red panic button. Victory and suddenly the nation’s feelings are flipped upside down.
Seven games without a win is far from ideal preparation in a World Cup year but tournament football is designed to throw up one or two surprises. Capello is long gone and Gareth Bale and Co are watching at home with the rest of us.
Get humiliated in Group A and there really will be a state of national emergency.
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.