It was never meant to be this way. Less than a month ago all talk of Russia’s chances was quickly dismissed out of hand.
FIFA rankings placed them as the worst team taking part in the tournament, whilst a lack of competitive matches painted an impression of a team under-prepared. A 3-0 drubbing from Uruguay restored this outlook after eight goals and back-to-back victories had briefly silenced their critics during the opening week.
Next came Spain and the need for “a minor miracle” according to their own striker, Artem Dzyuba. Now it’s a Croatian test and the previously unthinkable idea of a semi-final appearance looming large on the horizon.
It’s a story which could easily have fallen from the pen of Alexander Afanasyev. Whether Russia manage to avoid an abrupt ending or not, there are still plenty of things to look forward to in the latest chapter of this epic tale.