One of the heroes in Russia’s sensational 5-0 victory against Saudi Arabia in the Opening Match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup was Denis Cheryshev, a player with a unique past in the Russian national team.
The whole of Russia woke up in celebratory mood this morning, but there was an extra-special feeling of pride in Nizhny Novgorod, Cheryshev’s birthplace which he represents as a Host City Ambassador for the World Cup. Since the game was watched all around the world, there will surely also have been toasts to the player in Madrid, where he started out as a professional, and his adopted city of Villarreal. Having grown up in Spain, Cheryshev is fluent in Spanish and has a different mindset to his team-mates in the national team that play their club football at home.
Denis’s father was Dmitri Cheryshev, a well-known Russian striker from the 1990s. Dmitri won 13 caps for the Sbornaya during his career, scoring one goal. In 1996, when Denis was just six years old, Dmitri accepted a move from Dinamo Moscow to Sporting Gijon in northern Spain, where Denis made his first steps in football. At the age of 13, scouts invited him to join Real Madrid’s academy, where he made a name for himself as an attacking midfielder with an eye for goal. Unfortunately, as he developed, recurring injuries stalled his promising career, but Cheryshev Jr can still boast of appearances for such famous clubs as Sevilla, Valencia and Villarreal.
A citizen of both Spain and Russia, in his youth Denis was given a choice of which country to represent on the international stage, but there was no doubt in his mind. He always harboured the wish of one day playing for the country where he was born and the team his father played for. This dream came true in 2012 and, in doing so, the Cheryshevs became the first-ever father and son to play for the Sbornaya.
His spells on the sidelines meant that further opportunities to compete for a spot in the starting line-up were limited and the match against Saudi Arabia was only Cheryshev’s 12th Russia cap. Nevertheless, he made it one to remember by scoring his debut goal, deftly cutting inside and leaving two defenders sprawled on the turf before rifling the ball into the top corner. He added a second late on with a delightful strike with the outside of his boot from the edge of the area. Back in 2008, Dmitri had predicted his son’s rise saying that, “You will see, my son is ten times better than I was.” He was probably the happiest father in Russia this morning.
“I want my family to enjoy this moment,” Denis said immediately after the final whistle, “because they have been through so much along with me and they deserve this too.”
“I can’t put into words what I’m feeling,” Cheryshev continued. “I am so happy the team got the victory. We wanted to win to make the fans happy. The stadium was full, so thanks to them. We want to bring them even more joy.
“Of course, I’m happy I scored two goals, but attacking players should score. And they will score; we will try everything to help them score. It’s up to the coach to decide who to pick. I am ready to play whenever they say, whether it’s for a minute or 20 seconds. The most important things is that the team makes progress and wins our next match too.”