More than 24,000 fans greeted the national team at the FIFA Fan Fest on Vorobyovy Gory with thunderous applause and loud chants 'Russia' and 'Spasibo' to mark the Sbornaya's remarkable accomplishments at the home World Cup, where the team reached the quarterfinals for the first time in their history.
The players, who suffered a heartbreaking quarter-final defeat on Saturday, unfurled a huge banner reading "We are playing for you" in a tribute to their devoted fans and their passionate support during the tournament.
"It's a great honor for us to [be here], we are playing for our country with passion. We have proven that Russia is a football powerhouse. Thank you so much," Russian striker Artem Dzyuba said.
"Yesterday and today I would have experienced the same feelings towards me, if I were in your place," said Fedor Smolov, sharing the blame for the quarterfinal defeat in which he missed a penalty against Croatia. "Thank you for your support, I'm happy to see so many people here. I'm sincerely happy to be a Russian citizen. Only Russian people have such a soul that has no equals in the whole world."
Manager Stanislav Cherchesov promised an even better performance at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, saying: "We wanted to go further, but unfortunately we failed to make it this time," Cherchesov said. "We'll do better at Qatar in four years time. But this goal will be difficult to accomplish without you, so you should go to Qatar with us."
Cherchesov, who faced heavy criticism going into the tournament, but has emerged from it as a national hero, gave his thoughts after the defeat to Croatia consigned his team to a heart-breaking exit.
"It's a shame we lost, I think we deserved more, we played good football, with good players. In principle, we played as we planned, [but] the goals we conceded, we shouldn't have conceded, but that's football," the 54-year-old former international goalkeeper said.
"At the World Cup we didn't have the best players, [but] we had a team, from the first days we said that," Cherchesov concluded.