Russia celebrates team's run despite World Cup exit

The lowest-ranked team in World Cup 2018, Russia managed to beat expectations by reaching the quarter-finals.

    Follow Al Jazeera's coverage of the World Cup 2018 here.

    Russia's unexpectedly strong performance in World Cup 2018 has won over a new generation of fans despite the team's exit at the quarter-final stage.

    The hosts, the lowest-ranked team at the World Cup this year, were second in their group and beat former champions Spain in the last-16 round.

    The Russians lost only once over 90 or 120 minutes of football and that was in their final group match against Uruguay, when they had already qualified for the knockout stage.

    However, the team's unexpected run came to an end at the hands of Croatia but not before dragging the game to penalties on Saturday.

    Russia's indefatigable coach, Stanislav Cherchesov, managed to assemble a team that defied all forecasts and made the home nation proud. 

    "We trusted ourselves. We could only prove our worth by working hard," said Cherchesov.

    "I believe that people did not only start trusting us but they are in love with us. From the first second I put together this team, I knew where it was heading. We have succeeded I believe, but it is time to take a step forward."

    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had never managed to go past the group stage.

    Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from the Russian capital Moscow after the team's loss to Croatia, said, "While the team went into this competition something of a national joke, no one was laughing at them now."

    "The mood in central Moscow tonight is: the Russian team has lost, long live the Russian team," he said.

    In Moscow, the area behind Red Square was the unofficial beating heart of this World Cup.

    As Croatia's winning penalty was scored, there was a stunned silence. Russia had crashed out of the tournament.

    But moments later, there was applause.

    Russian fans were dejected at the result but happy at the team's overall performance [Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters]

    Moscow's Nikolskaya Street was full of people chanting, dancing, and hugging into the morning. Most of them sang Russian songs in the streets all night, waving Russian flags and sounding the horn.

    "This looks like a nation with a newfound sense of footballing confidence - and expectations for the future," said Challands.

    The headlines in Russia read, "Moscow did not sleep after the match", "Thanks, guys", "Simply great", and "Fighting until the end".

    President Vladimir Putin did not attend the game, but watched 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.

    "He watched, he was rooting for the team. They are still great guys for us, they are heroes," said Peskov.

    The Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who attended the game, called it "the best match in the history of the national team".

    "This was a good game, and a beautiful one. We were supporting the team so much," one Russian fan told Al Jazeera after the quarter-final.

    "Thank you, Russia. For the atmosphere and the celebration of football."

    "Russia has shown the world what kind of championship we can have - the best in the world," said another fan.

    "Even those who didn't believe in them started believing, in the end."

    With additional reporting by Rory Challands and Maria Michela D'Alessandro in Moscow.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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