The party is on in Russia, as fans are celebrating the home team’s first time qualifying for the World Cup knockout rounds since 1986.
Back then, it was the Soviet Union who made the Round of 16 before losing 4-3 to Belgium. FIFA combines the results of Russia and the USSR for historical recordkeeping.
Emphatic Win Sends Russians to the Streets
The celebrations began after Russia’s 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday. Following a scoreless first half, goals by Ahmed Fathy, Denis Cheryshev, and Artem Dzyuba led the Russians to a comfortable victory. Combined with its earlier 5-0 trouncing of Saudi Arabia, the victory gave Russia six points and put the squad on the edge of going through to the next round.
Following that match, fans began celebrations across the country, with thousands of supporters congregating in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the game had been held. Russians waved flags and joined in chants in an unexpected celebration for the home side.
“This is my first time at a football game,” a fan named Andrei told Reuters after leaving the match. “I loved the atmosphere, but our players really showed how the game should be played.”
Any questions over whether Russia would advance to the next round were put to bed on Wednesday, when Uruguay scored a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia.
That result put both Uruguay and Russia through to the next stage of the tournament, while eliminating both the Saudis and Egypt.
Can Russia Keep Advancing? Odds Are Against It
As the lowest team in the FIFA rankings heading into the tournament, expectations were low for Russia entering the World Cup. But the situation may not have been quite as bad as some fans and pundits feared before Russia stepped on the pitch.
While Russia may have struggled mightily in their preparation for the World Cup – the national team had failed to win a single match in 2018 before the tournament began – home field advantage counts for a lot in soccer.
Combine that with a relatively weak group that included winnable games against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the stage was set for Russia to at least avoid embarrassment, even if few expected such a resounding performance in their first two matches.
The next question for the team is a simple one: how far can it go in the tournament?
Few seriously expect the Russians to compete for a world championship this year. William Hill currently lists Russia as a 40/1 dark horse to win the World Cup, far behind favorites like Brazil (4/1) and Spain (9/2).
Russia is even a slight underdog to Uruguay in their final match, though it is favored to win the group. Thanks to their superior goal differential, the Russians would finish ahead of Uruguay if the teams draw their match on Monday.
Regardless of the result, Russia will likely face an uphill climb in their first knockout match. They will most likely face either Spain or Portugal in the Round of 16, and either powerhouse would be a heavy favorite to end the home team’s run.