Usually, at World Cups host nations thrive. In fact, South Africa are the only host nation in the history of the competition in its modern format not to make the last 16 as hosts.
Due to their horrible form heading into World Cup 2018, many expected current hosts Russia to join the South Africans in that very select group.
However, instead, the home side have picked up six points by winning their two games 5-0 and 3-1 respectively. The victories have not quite guaranteed the home nation a place in the knockout stages, but it now seems a formality due to their goal difference.
Unexpected home success
I doubt many people saw this coming from Russia. They had won just once in their previous 11 games heading into the World Cup. Their home journalists were scathing about their team’s chances on home soil.
However, two outstanding displays have changed the mood of the country and the Russian players. Suddenly the team offers the fans hope that they can go far in their World Cup. Prior to the tournament, there was little expectation or hope that they would even get out of the group stage.
Villarreal winger Denis Cheryshev was always talked about as an exciting player in Spain, where he has lived since he was five. He came through the Real Madrid youth system and there was hope he would fulfil massive potential.
However, at 27-years-old he has yet to fulfil his potential in club football, despite showing flashes of his ability. The winger started the first game on the bench, only to come on for the injured Alan Dzagoev and grab a brace.
He then proceeded to score in Tuesday night’s win over Egypt. Prior to the tournament, he had failed to score in his 11 appearances for Russia. The winger now sits alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scoring charts, for now anyway.
Tales of the unexpected
This summer’s World Cup has thrown up many tales of the unexpected, from Brazil and Argentina drawing their opening matches to Mexico beating Germany. It has been the tournament of the unexpected.
The fact that Russia have produced such good displays is just one of them. After talk before the tournament about Russian Ultras and of politics, it seems that football has now taken centre stage, which is the way it should be too.
The Russian team have given the home fans something to smile about with their performances. The home side thriving at their own World Cup can only be good for the competition.
When a home side reaching the latter stages of the competition it tends to keep the good vibe of the tournament going, this in turn means that supporters are safe and happy.
How far Russia can go is uncertain. However, momentum and home support is a powerful thing. South Korea’s run to the semi-finals on home soil back in 2002 was the perfect example of its effect.
Russia has been brilliant so far and I hope it continues. Unless of course, they face England at some stage, when I hope they fall flat on their faces, maybe even literally!
How far can Russia go at World Cup 2018?