Russian striker Artem Dzyuba on Tuesday called on the host nation to put aside its negativity and get behind the team as they prepare to take on Saudi Arabia in the World Cup opener on Thursday.
Pointing to a wave of hostility that has swept through both the Russian media and public, Dzyuba said the country needs to come together to help the players perform at their best.
“There are a lot of skeptical people and there is a lot of negativity around and we want to unite now like a team. So, I am asking you to add some respect toward us and we will respect you back,” said the 29-year-old who has been capped 23 times by his country.
Speaking after a training session at the team’s base at the Federal Sports Center Novogorsk, on the leafy outskirts of northwest Moscow, Dzyuba implored the local media to go easy on him and his teammates.
“I see all that is happening from the negative side and I want to ask the media, because you are broadcasting to the people, I want to ask you to be positive,” he said.
“The tournament has not started yet and (the media) are behaving aggressively. So, let’s wait until the tournament starts and then you’ll make conclusions and you can decide who, what and how.”
Dzyuba, a former Spartak Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg and now Arsenal Tula player, said his team has been working for more than a month to ensure they are not “kicked out of the tournament” in the group stage, something that happened at the past four World Cups to which they have qualified, in 1990 as the Soviet Union and in 1994, 2002 and 2014 as Russia.
Japan was at the center of one of the country’s most infamous World Cup defeats.
The Samurai Blue beat Russia 1-0 in Yokohama in 2002, handing them their first defeat of the tournament and sparking riots in Moscow that left two people dead and 73 injured, according to reports from the time.
“For us, this is the most important thing in our career and in life. We need support from the whole country,” said Dzyuba.
In Saudi Arabia, Russia’s opponent at Luzhniki Stadium, both Dzyuba and his teammate Andrey Lunyov said they expect a strong challenge.
Both players stressed that they are prepared for a speedy, attack-first team, but that they see weakness in their defense and will look to take advantage of that.
Lunyov, who is expected to back up Russia’s No. 1 goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, said the team has watched a lot of film on Saudi Arabia to work out their strengths and weaknesses, and was blunt in his assessment.
“We came to the conclusion they play just in attack.”