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'I don't know why people are so impressed' - Russia's fitness coach explains 'amazing' levels

4:31 PM IST 26/06/18
Aleksandr Golovin Russia training World Cup 2018
The response was made after some had looked suspiciously on the statistic that has underpinned the host nation's success in the World Cup

Russia's fitness coach Paulino Granero is baffled why people are surprised by the host nation’s impressive running statistics at the World Cup.

FIFA’s official statistics showed that Russia had covered more ground than any other team in the tournament after the second round of matches in the group stage.

Stanislav Cherchesov’s men, who started the World Cup as the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, covered 233 kilometres against both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, also making an impressive 824 sprints, in claiming back-to-back victories.

Aleksandr Golovin ranked as the competition's hardest-working player after Matchday Two before Russia were brought back down to earth with a 3-0 defeat by Uruguay in their final group game on Monday.

Scrutiny over Russia’s fitness levels comes as some raise questions about the country’s recent record of endemic doping in other sports, although FIFA drug tested Cherchesov’s preliminary 28-man World Cup squad before the tournament and found "insufficient evidence" to assert an anti-doping rule violation.

Granero has also pointed to Russia’s fitness levels and performance during friendly matches over the past two years as proof that his side have the natural capacity to outrun opponents.

"I don't know why people are so impressed," Granero told Goal in Samara. "Russia, in the last two years, in all their friendly matches, they are reaching the same distance, the same total distance and high-intensity distances. It was even better than now. Look at us against Brazil, Argentina and Spain [in the friendlies].

"Russia has shown amazing fitness in past games but even now it is a little worse than in September, October and November. I am surprised that people are surprised. We will see what happens in the next match. The boys are training very hard. Our two weeks in Austria prepared each player for their individual capacity and that's it.

"They are running 13km more than Saudi Arabia. Spain are running 103km and Russia at 115km. It is different, our players are very, very strong and Spain has more technical players, for example, more control over the ball, they keep the ball longer, tactically they are different."

Granero will now help to prepare Russia for a last-16 match against his home country Spain on Sunday after Fernando Hierro’s side edged out Portugal for top spot in Group B.

Sergei Ignashevich could again play a key role for Russia in that game after the 38-year-old was brought out of international retirement to play in the World Cup and Granero says the defender trains harder than any player he has ever met.

"I invite you to come one day to see how he is training day by day, in the pitch and you will see a big surprise at how he is training every day," added Granero, whose career path has taken him to Moscow via Real Betis.

"He is one of the best, most professional trainers that I have seen in my life. Absolutely. He is a very strong player and he has done it for his whole career."