Russian coach Stanislav Cherchesov. Picture: REUTERS
Russian coach Stanislav Cherchesov. Picture: REUTERS

Moscow — The head of the Russian Orthodox Church said on Wednesday that "hope and prayer" were the only things he could offer the beleaguered national team as they head into the World Cup as host nation.

"I hope this big event will bring success and will positively influence the mood of our people," Patriarch Kirill said at a gathering of church officials in Moscow. "Of course this largely depends on how our team plays. And here all that is left is to hope and pray for everything to be right and dignified, and of course to rely on the preparation of our players," he added.

The question confronting Russian football fans ahead of the 2018 World Cup, which starts on Thursday, is whether the host nation’s team can get any worse.

Last week, Russia extended its winless streak with a 1-1 home draw against Turkey, which meant the team failed to chalk up a single victory in eight months. President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes that Russia "will fight until the end" in the World Cup, which runs until July 15. The national coach is Stanislav Cherchesov. 

Patriarch Kirill also called on ordinary Russians and church representatives to welcome foreign fans to the country.

"I ask for all of us, including churches themselves, to be ready to welcome all those people who will ask questions and be interested in the life of the church," he said.

After facing Saudi Arabia in Group A at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday, Russia face Egypt in St Petersburg on June 19 and Uruguay in Volgo-grad on June 25.

The best the Soviet Union achieved at the World Cup finals was in England in 1966 when they finished fourth.

Their first participation was at the 1958 tournament in Sweden, but Soviet football was dissolved in 1991 at the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Russia appeared at their first finals at the 1994 World Cup in the US.