Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov believes messages of support from president Vladimir Putin provide extra motivation for him and his players.
Putin attended the team’s World Cup opening win against Saudi Arabia and although he has not been present at their other matches he has been keeping in touch with Cherchesov.
“Putin has been calling me. He called me before the Spanish game (in the last 16), and of course when the president supports you it makes you comfortable and the players know this,” he told his pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday’s quarter-final against Croatia.
The hosts’ surprise progress to the quarter-final has ramped up the hopes of home fans but Cherchesov insists – aside from taking calls from the president – he is trying to steer clear of the hype.
“As a coach I am trying not to watch the TV, I don’t read papers, I am concentrating on my job. I believe that is the same for the players,” he added.
“I am trying not to get distracted. If I get a newspaper I will read a headline. Criticism is good but I believe we should have our eyes and ears open.
“We Russians like extremes so let’s not go to these extremes. I believe it should be constructive, analytical criticism
“You say people are euphoric: we, the people in the team, are not the people who should be euphoric.
“It is a good story to remind us of our game against Spain, for our country it is great step forward.
“While the tournament is still going on we see the team who was, theoretically, one of the best – Spain – have packed and gone home already.”
Cherchesov knows his players will have to be at their very best but he will not spend any time worrying about the array of talent in the opposition ranks, which includes Real Madrid’s Lukas Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic.
“I will not focus on one player in the Croatia team because the Croatian team is playing great and I cannot say one player is better than the others,” he said.
“I know they are playing at a very high level. We will have do something with our players to play against them and individually our players will have to play well.”
Russia have been boosted by the return of experienced midfielder Alan Dzagoev.
The CSKA Moscow star has not featured since a hamstring injury forced him off after 24 minutes of the 5-0 win over Saudi.
“It is a pity to lose such a player in the first game but he is already training,” said the Russia coach.
“He missed training the day before yesterday but yesterday and today he trained and we will see if I am able to let him play from the first minute.”