KHIMKI, Russia (Reuters) - World Cup hosts Russia have been fueled by the criticism they received before the tournament, midfielder Anton Miranchuk said on Sunday as the team prepared for their second group match against Egypt.
Russia entered the tournament as the lowest-ranked team and have never reached the knockout stages in the post-Soviet era, but they crushed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their opening match.
“It made us angry to some extent, in soccer terms,” the 22-year-old Miranchuk told reporters.
“All of us are professionals. We understand criticism and accept it properly, so it’s fine.”
Just over a week before the tournament, Russia were held to a 1-1 draw in a friendly against Turkey who did not qualify for the World Cup finals.
The uninspired performance by Stanislav Cherchesov’s side sparked concern they could crash out of the World Cup group stage without a win, as they did at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
But the emphatic victory over Saudi Arabia on Thursday raised hopes that the team could make the last 16.
“We understand that this match has passed, that the emotions have faded,” said Miranchuk, who plays for Russian champions Lokomotiv Moscow.
“We are preparing for a new match. We understand that against Egypt we will have another kind of soccer.”
Russia might have to contain Mohamed Salah when they face Egypt in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
The Liverpool forward, who injured shoulder ligaments in the Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid last month, did not play in Egypt’s 1-0 loss to Uruguay on Friday but is expected to return to face Russia.
“When you watch their matches with Salah and without him, the matches are different,” Miranchuk said. “But there are 11 players on the pitch, not one.”
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, editing by Ed Osmond