Russia's Confed Cup showing doesn't suggest future World Cup success

KAZAN, Russia -- One of the few positives to emerge from Russia's Confederations Cup exit for Stanislav Cherchesov is that he has managed to get the country behind his team once again.

Whether the same can be said for the domestic media is another matter, judging by the first question thrown the coach's way in the postmatch news conference after Mexico's 2-1 win in Kazan had confirmed Russia's group stage elimination.

"Our sources told us that, if Russia went out of this tournament before the semifinals, you would be fired," the reporter said. "Are you going to resign?"

Cherchesov, who only took the Russia job less than a year ago, is a sardonic character at the best of times, but his response was cutting.

"If you can be more specific as to where you got your information from, I can respond," he said. "We have the most trendy journalists -- unnamed sources -- and with these I will continue to work, with pleasure.

"And the informer you dreamt about, please pass on my regards."

It may prove to be little more than vain fighting talk from Cherchesov, whose fate could well be hanging in the balance as a result of Russia's early exit, but it is not all bad news for the 53-year-old former Spartak Moscow goalkeeper.

Somehow, he has managed to get a nation back onside ahead of next year's World Cup, but there is still an awful long way to go before the relationship is based on anything as solid as respect and admiration.

"We have warmed hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month and have given some reasons to feel optimistic," Cherchesov said. "There are some things we can do, others we can't, but the team played their hearts out and I don't think anyone watching on TV or in the stadium can have any doubts about that."

Cherchesov appears a smart cookie, aware that winning the PR battle is often as important as being victorious on the pitch. He made a statement at the end of the game by assembling all of his players in the centre-circle of the pitch in Kazan.

Russia had just become the first host nation since South Korea in 2001 to fail to emerge from their group at a Confederations Cup and it did not end well, with veteran Yuri Zhirkov compounding their misery with a red card on 68 minutes for throwing an elbow.

But despite the failure of himself and his players, Cherchesov marched into the centre-circle and ordered every member of his squad to join him for a show of appreciation towards the crowd.

It could have gone either way, with the home supporters well within their rights to vent their anger and disappointment as Cherchesov's men stood there, apologetically waving to all four sides of the Kazan Arena.

But the response was supportive, with a heavy dose of pity, as the men in red were politely applauded before they trudged off the pitch, up the tunnel and out of the tournament.

Cherchesov will not want pity for his players, but that is the position this current Russia squad finds itself in after this underwhelming campaign in the warm-up tournament for next year's World Cup.

Few people in Russia have any faith in their football team. Even President Vladimir Putin has weighed in with his opinion that they must do better ahead of Russia 2018.

It is as though the football players have become something of a national embarrassment and everyone has given up hope in the current crop having any chance of doing anything of note in 12 months' time.

Based on their performances in Group A at the Confederations Cup, which has seen them win against lowly New Zealand and lose to Portugal and Mexico, Russia will require plenty of luck when the draw is made for the World Cup in December if they are to have any prospect of progressing to the knock-out stages in their own tournament.

Russia will have had almost eight years to prepare for staging the World Cup by the time it comes around, but those familiar with their football team suggest that it is not only the worst in a decade, but the worst since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Still, Cherchesov's limited team played with pride and passion and, for now, that will be enough to warrant the support of the country as they attempt to scale a mountain by delivering some kind of success next year.

Russia simply do not have any players of any note and they will be the weakest of the seeded teams in the draw later this year.

Their better players in this game -- Aleksandr Samedov and Denis Glushakov -- are hardly blessed with youth, while long-serving goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, whose unenviable claim to fame is never having kept a clean sheet in the Champions League, made a horrific mistake for Mexico's second when rushing off his line and crashing into goalscorer Hirving Lozano.

Injured players such as Alan Dzagoev and Artem Dzyuba will return next season, but they are not Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, so they are unlikely to make a great deal of difference.

Still, Cherchesov was keen to accentuate the positives, even acknowledging that, a year after striking out at the 2001 Confederations Cup, South Korea reached the World Cup semifinals.

Don't put your house on Russia matching that achievement, though.

Getting out of the group will be a success and, if they can manage that, who knows where the draw will take them?

But beyond that, maybe just winning some more hearts and minds is the best Russia can hope for.