When one has limited experience playing international football and is selected for the World Cup squad to represent the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, it could be easy to accept that things aren’t too likely to go your way and do the bare minimum. That has not proven to be the case with Russia midfielder Denis Cheryshev, however. The former Real Madrid midfielder is arguably one of the more well-known names in the Russia national side, despite having only 10 caps to his name before the grand competition kicked off a few days ago. His performance level – and overall contribution – to the host nation’s cause has, therefore, been something of a surprise to some.
Despite having something of a nightmare in his side’s third game against Uruguay, Cheryshev’s performances in the first two games of the tournament were enough to place him firmly at the top of the list for midfielders in the competition over the last few days. The tournament opener saw Russia thumping Saudi Arabia 5-0, with the Villarreal man grabbing a brace. He would then follow that up a few days later, when the Russians saw off the challenge of Egypt with a 3-1 victory in which Cheryshev found the net once again. Along with team-mate Aleksandr Golovin he is tipped as one of the players who could enjoy a breakthrough tournament, and so the ex-Valencia loanee may be set for something of a renaissance after the competition ends.
At 27 years old he does have some considerable experience at club level but appears to be only just breaking through on the international stage. Toke Thielade spoke to the Euro Fantasy League Podcast a couple of weeks ago about Cheryshev not really having a defined role in the side, but that is a problem that seems to have been remedied by coach Stanislav Cherchesov by this point. Russia’s next round game is a tough one though, and so the likes of Cheryshev, Golovin and Yuri Gazinskiy will have to be at their best to put up a true challenge against former world champions Spain.
As alluded to previously, they seemed to struggle to really take a hold of the game when faced with true quality opposition in Uruguay, but their emphatic disposal of Saudi Arabia and Egypt – who had a disappointing campaign after Mohamed Salah’s fine domestic season with Liverpool – show that they are more than capable of cranking it up and applying the pressure when it is needed. Spain will need to be cautious, as the home advantage has often played a large part in the hosts advancing further than they may otherwise be fancied. If Cheryshev and co are in good fettle on 1st July, Russia are in with a chance of pushing Spain further than the Spaniards may be comfortable with.