Moscow (AFP) – Russia’s World Cup topscorer Denis Cheryshev says the hosts can hurt 2010 winners Spain in the World Cup last 16 on Sunday despite the huge disparity in talent between the two teams.
Russia entered the tournament as the lowest-ranked side, at 70th in the world, but comprehensive wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt have boosted expectations.
Now they must find a way past title contenders Spain to prolong their run after reaching the knockout phase for the first time in the post-Soviet era.
Villarreal winger Cheryshev, who has scored three goals so far, is looking to exploit a surprisingly suspect Spain defence.
Fernando Hierro’s side have conceded five goals in three matches, with questions in particular over the form of Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.
“That’s my intention as a forward,” said Cheryshev. “Spain have some great players and might even be the best team in the world, in any case they’re close to being the best. But any team can hurt another and we’ll certainly do our best.”
Cheryshev is no stranger to Spanish football, having spent most of his life in the country and come up through the Real Madrid youth system.
“I’m sure we’re going to have a hard time and I repeat we know they’re excellent and can play very well,” he said. “But we also have our assets and we’ll have to take advantage of them.
“However, I think that we can win against anybody, we can always win and that’s what we need to believe, just think about victory.”
Russia will have the support of most of the 80,000 fans at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, and Cheryshev is hoping the team can deliver a performance they will remember.
“I think for us tomorrow has to be a party, especially for the fans. They need to enjoy the match and we need to give 200 percent.
“We are playing at home but I think the team is relaxed and very much ready to do a good job.”
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said it was a “life and death match”.
“It’s not a pressure,” he said. “I believe there is a responsibility, Spain feels this and so does Russia. If you lose this you’re out.
“This is something like an exam in Russian — what you write your teacher or professor will read and check and you can’t change anything.”
Russia drew 3-3 with Spain in a friendly in Saint Petersburg in November, but former national team goalkeeper Cherchesov said much had changed since then.
“It was like a test game, tomorrow is an official game. They are two different things,” said the 54-year-old.