Five days after the FIFA World Cup final in Moscow, the TASS Russian News Agency recounted what it called Russia’s “surprisingly successful performance” on the field – quoting from a promotional story on FIFA’s Web site and an interview with Coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
"A quarter-final is a pretty good result for us, if we analyze the performances,” TASS and FIFA quoted Cherchesov as saying.
Given the expectations of international experts and sportswriters, the obvious verdict on this statement, and Cherchesov’s comments on the FIFA Web site, is “true.”
The Russian team not only survived the early round to reach the “knockout” phase, but made the quarterfinals. And it took a penalty shootout on July 7 for Croatia to beat Russia and advance to the semifinals.
Prior to the FIFA World Cup competition, expectations for Russia were not high. In a pre-Cup analysis in early June, the Washington Post wondered whether Russia’s dreams would die early, “given its dearth of success in major competitions since the Soviet Union collapsed.”
The Local, a European English-language daily news Web site, gave Russia a 1.6% chance of winning while predicting Germany would be the eventual winner. Germany was eliminated before the knockout round.
“Russia qualified automatically as the host nation, playing a bunch of friendlies while its rivals were busy with competitive action,” Sheedutta Chidananda of The Hindu wrote in the publication’s team analysis. He and a number of analysts pointed out that Russia enjoyed “a favorable draw.”
Even Polygraph.info joined in the litany of low expectations, writing in mid-June about Russian comedian and singer Semyon Slepakov’s satirical song on “many of the issues surrounding Russia’s preparation for the World Cup,” including low expectations for Russia’s football team.
We subsequently reported that Slepakov followed up with an “apology song” after facing after receiving "joke threats” from Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov during the tournament.
Cherchesov admitted in the FIFA article that Russia’s performance before the World Cup had lowered expectations. “We were criticized for our results in the warm-up matches against Argentina, Spain, Brazil and France,” he told FIFA. “But those matches gave us a lot to ponder and helped us to prepare for the World Cup.”
This fact check is limited to the happy results for Russian soccer team fans. There are other elements of the host country’s performance off the field that have resulted in more sober questions. These include allegations of racism in the Russian sport, Russian media’s rosy portrayal of the atmosphere surrounding the tournament and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s claim that “Russophobia” was behind the publication of a handbook for journalists produced by a human rights watchdog that cited humanitarian abuses in the run-up to the tournament.