Russia talk a good game ahead of World Cup clash against Saudi Arabia

Stanislav Cherchesov is a man under pressure as the big kick-off nears.
Updated 13 June 2018

Russia talk a good game ahead of World Cup clash against Saudi Arabia

  • Hosts under a lot of pressure to get a good result in front of their fans in Moscow.
  • Stanislav Cherchesov says mood is good in the camp ahead of Saudi Arabia opener.

MOSCOW: Deep in the bowels of the cavernous Luzhniki Stadium, drowned out by distorted feedback, Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov suggested that such is the pressurized atmosphere ahead of today’s World Cup opening match, even his microphone could not withstand it.
Russia arrive at their own tournament as the lowest-ranked side of the 32 teams and without a win in nine international matches. Having qualified as hosts, their last victory came in October against South Korea and they have since lost to Argentina, Brazil, France and Austria while drawing with Iran, Spain and, most recently, Turkey. 
Today, against Saudi Arabia in Moscow, they are aiming to avoid becoming the first host nation to lose a tournament curtain-raiser. And if Cherchesov, who has been at the helm for two years, was not already aware of the expectations upon his side, Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier this week made it quite clear. 
Yet while scathing criticism from local press has forced some Russian players to close their social media accounts and former players — including former Manchester United winger Andrei Kanchelskis — have described the team as one of the worst ever, Cherchesov cut a jovial figure 24 hours before the big kick-off. 
“Our mood is very good. We are ready for work. We did a lot of work back in Austria and have reached a good level. Against Turkey, we showed the kind of game we want to play,” the 54-year-old said. 
“Every coach has to accept criticism. I don’t read anything and stay focused on my job. We are trying to do what we’re doing — the fact we are getting criticised, that’s a natural thing in the world we live in today. We want to do everything we can to turn criticism into positive feedback and we have everything we need to do that.”
Cherchesov revealed his team have been trying to relax by playing Trivial Pursuit, but the most pressing question is whether they are capable of beating a Saudi Arabia team appearing at a world finals for the first time since 2006. Aleksandr Samedov, the team’s veteran right-back, said he and his teammates watched the Green Falcons’ most recent
defeats to Italy and Germany and are well-prepared. Now all he hopes is his compatriots show more support.
“(Saudi Arabia) are a very technically-minded team,” said Samedov, who spent Tuesday analyzing the Saudi
attack and planned last night to do similar with the opponents’ defence.
“They like to hold the ball and our objective is not to let them keep it, which is what we will try to do. We would all love it if there could be a bit more positive spirit around our team, but we have to contribute and generate this positivity, which would then emanate through the press. We will try to demonstrate this at the World Cup.”
Cherchesov confirmed that he has a full squad to choose from with
players carrying minor injuries
having managed to recover, adding that he believed his team had “improved considerably” since last year’s
Confederations Cup, where they won their opening match 2-0 against New Zealand but lost to Portugal and Mexico to crash out at the group stage.

KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

Updated 19 March 2019

KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

  • Young Saudi triumphant at Open International Tournament despite just two years of training
  • Zahra Al-Qurashi took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi

JEDDAH: Zahra Al-Qurashi never expected to be where she is today: A gold medal winner in full contact kickboxing at the Open International Tournament for Clubs aged just 21. What started out as a gym class two years ago soon turned into a passion, leading to her victory in Amman on Sunday.

“I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym. I found the class and gave it a try, and decided to keep attending the classes,” she said. “A year ago, I joined Flagboxing Gym, and started training with my coach Grethe (Kraugerud). With her help, I developed my style and I am improving every day.”

Full contact is a discipline of kickboxing where punches and kicks must be delivered to legal areas of the body. According to the World Association for Kickboxing Organizations’ rules, it is legal to attack the front of the head and front and side of the torso, using “ankle-level foot sweeps.” It is prohibited to attack the throat, lower abdomen, back, legs, joints, back of the head and top of the shoulders.

A medal at her first international competition, then, speaks volumes about Al-Qurashi’s tenacity. She took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi.

“As soon as I entered the ring, everything went blank, I couldn’t hear or see anyone but my opponent, so I don’t really recall hearing my name even,” said Al-Qurashi. “I got a couple of really good kicks and punches, but she was a good opponent. I was in my own zone though, following every move and made sure I didn’t make mistakes.”

Zahra Al-Quraishi, 21, is already a gold medal winner at an international event despite being a virtual rookie in the demanding sport of kickboxing. (Supplied photos)

Hala Al-Hamrani, the owner of Flagboxing Gym in Jeddah, said: “I am over the moon. I have dreamt about this happening for 16 years, ever since I started coaching. My goal was to eventually provide the ladies of this country with an opportunity to compete.”

For approximately two months, Kraugerud, from Norway, oversaw Al-Qurashi’s workouts, adding more sparring, interval training and intense ring practice.

“I’ve had Zahra spar with men, who are bigger and stronger than her, to give her a sense of what to expect in the ring, to give her more confidence and make her mentally prepared,” said Kraugerud. “I was very proud of her as she entered the ring, you could see the respect for the sport reflected in her. We did a really good job at Flag, we really pushed for this together as a team. She’s young, but she’s talented and she will go far.”

Al-Hamrani, a member of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Federation, added: “We got her ready by providing her with the right practice and training. It’s a dream come true and it’s very overwhelming because it was such a long process for something like this to happen. Zahra is an up-and-coming athlete who hopefully has a long future and I’m extremely excited to see what that future holds.”

Abdul Aziz Julaidan, chairman of the Saudi MMA Federation, hailed the result after a tough bout between the two competitors, and thanked Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sport Authority, for the support he had given to the team.

Upon returning to her hometown of Jeddah, Al-Qurashi was greeted by her mother. “I was hugging her and crying and mom, being mom, asked if I was crying because I got hit,” she laughed. “That was her way of saying: I’m proud of you.”