Russia winger Cheryshev faces Spain, where his career began

Russia winger Cheryshev faces Spain, where his career began
Russia's Denis Cheryshev controls the ball during Russia's official training ahead of the round of 16 match between Russia and Spain at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Federal Sports Centre Novogorsk, near Moscow, Russia, Saturday, June 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

MOSCOW (AP) — He’s getting ready to play for the country of his birth against the country where he grew up.

And he’ll do it on the biggest stage in soccer.

Denis Cheryshev was born in Russia but spent most of his life in Spain because his father Dmitry, also a professional player, played and coached at several clubs in the country.

The Villarreal winger came to the World Cup as a bench player and something of an outsider in a team where 21 of 23 players come from the Russian league. He was put into the lineup when Alan Dzagoev was injured in the opening game, and has responded with three goals.

“We are very relaxed and ready to do a good job,” Cheryshev said Saturday, switching between fluent Spanish and Russian at a news conference.

Cheryshev sees Russia as the clear underdog for Sunday’s game in Moscow against a Spanish team which he called “close to being the best, but any team can hurt another.”

Russia hasn’t played a game this important in 10 years, when Spain ended Russia’s European Championship run in the semifinals in 2008.

“Tomorrow has to be a party, especially for the audience at large,” Cheryshev said. “They need to enjoy the match and their national team. We need to give 200 percent — we know that’s our responsibility — and to give our all.”

Not everyone is as calm as Cheryshev, though.

“We understand that for us and for everyone this game is life itself, because what’s happening now, it’s a huge fairytale and festival,” Russia forward Artyom Dzyuba said Friday in an energetic speech at training.

“We’re living this dream and we’re getting ready. The dreams and the desire need to match up to what happens on the football field. Our thoughts are all about being worthy and getting a result that might be a shock for everyone, but we’re striving for it.”

At the height of the Cold War, Spain beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the 1964 European Championship final, a game which took on extra symbolism as a battle between the Soviets and Spain’s staunchly anti-communist dictatorship under Francisco Franco.

Spain stopped Russia’s European Championship run in 2008 — the country’s best tournament performance since the end of the Soviet Union — and also played to a 3-3 friendly draw last year, though one in which Spain didn’t field a full-strength team. Spain’s then-coach, Julen Lopetegui, was fired two days before this year’s World Cup after agreeing to take the Real Madrid job, and Fernando Hierro stepped in to take charge.

“We see that they have changed their game a bit,” Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said. “Maybe the players are the same but with different functions. Some players’ functions have changed.”

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