By Samindra Kunti in St Petersburg
June 26 – Russia’s bid for home Confederations Cup glory crumbled with defeat against Mexico 2-1. The Mexicans now progress to the semi-finals with tournament favourites Portugal, Chile and Germany.
Russia became the first host nation of the Confederations Cup since South Korea in 2001 to fail to progress from the group stages – their performance against Mexico was disappointing.
“We have warmed hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month and have given some reasons to feel optimistic,” said Russian coach Stanislav Cherchesov said. “There are some things we can do, others we can’t, but the team played their hearts out and I don’t think anyone watching on TV or in the stadium can have any doubts about that.”
Cherchesov united Russians behind his team, but his fate may well be hanging in the balance after a disappointing campaign, which yielded only three points from a single win against New Zealand.
“Our sources told us that, if Russia went out of this tournament before the semi-finals, you would be fired,” a Russian reporter said at the post-match press conference. “Are you going to resign?” Time will tell.
In the match the hosts took the lead with a goal by Alexander Samedov, but the Mexicans equalised with a Nestor Araujo strike before the break. Russia’s misery was compounded in the second half by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s howler and veteran Yuri Zhirkov’s sending off in the 68th minute for throwing an elbow. The luck was with the Mexicans all afternoon.
After the final whistle the Russian players gathered in the middle of the pitch to salute their fans. They were politely applauded by the crowd in Kazan before trudging down the tunnel for an ignominious exit. Cherchesov’s team had been the lowest ranked going into the tournament and it ultimately showed on the pitch.
Meanwhile in St Petersburg, European champions Portugal breezed past New Zealand 4-0. Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 75th international goal, won the man of the match award again, and refused to address any questions about his future – so it was business as usual.
Fernando Santos’ team will play Chile in the semi-finals. The South American champions suffered a scare against Australia, drawing 1-1. They finished second on five points behind Germany in Group B. In contrast the world champions made light work of Cameroon, winning 3-1 courtesy of goals by Kerem Demirbay and a brace from Timo Werner, with Vincent Aboubakar pulling one back for the Indomitable Lions.
But the match was overshadowed by more VAR confusion. Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan sent off Sebastien Siani for a high boot on Emre Can, but the case of mistaken identity bewildered the Cameroon players. Siani sarcastically applauded Roldan, who checked the monitor again, realised his mistake and in the end dismissed right-back Ernest Mabouka.
“The referee did not give any explanation,” said Cameroon coach Hugo Broos. “It’s a foul, fair enough but both players had their legs high up to reach the ball. I don’t understand why only my player received a red card.”
Germany will meet Mexico in their semi-final. The Confederations Cup will culminate with the final on July 2 in Saint Petersburg.
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