Russia President Vladimir Putin made a personal call to Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov immediately before the national team’s improbable victory over Spain.
“Before the match, around noon, the president [Putin] called the coach and wished him well,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the BBC.
Spain was tipped to progress at Russia’s expense. Russia, after all, was the lowest-ranked team heading into the 2018 World Cup and Spain was a 2010 champion.
But Russia ripped up the pre-match script. Playing in front of its own fans in Moscow, the host nation held Spain by a 1-1 score in normal time, dragged the match into a penalty shoot-out, and managed to dump the Spanish out of the competition thanks to heroics from goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
The landmark victory is one of the biggest upsets in the history of the World Cup, according to a recent Business Insider report. But is the Kremlin partly responsible?
Putin complimented Cherchesov’s handling of the team and lauded the way Russia had outperformed expectations having demolished Saudi Arabia and Egypt, guaranteeing progression into the knockout rounds with one group game to spare.
Pescov added: “Putin noted that regardless of the outcome of the match against Spain, no one in our country was going to judge them.”
In the end, nobody had to judge Russia as the team shocked Spain and sent them packing in a dramatic shootout — a shootout that produced wild celebrations throughout the country.
Russia is next in action in a crucial World Cup quarterfinal clash against Croatia on July 7.