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Russia players find solace in thousands of World Cup fans

AFP  |  Moscow 

Thousands of and flag-waving Russian fans thanked their disappointed players on Sunday after the host nation's fairytale run came to a crushing end with a shootout loss to

led his team onto a stage to a heroes' welcome in a fan zone on a sunny day that was meant to put a patriotic exclamation point on Russia's ability to beat the odds.

The long-suffering Russians entered the biggest event in sport as its lowest-ranked nation but ended up coming up just short of reaching their first semi-final in 52 years.

They lost to 4-3 on penalties after extra-time ended with the sides deadlocked at 2-2 in the resort of Sochi on Saturday.

"You were not the 12th -- you were the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th players," Cherchesov told the crowd gathered on a scenic hill overlooking

"We felt your support from the first second." The national team has been gaining followers and drawing increasing political attention from government leaders with every win.

has invited Cherchesov and his charges to the Kremlin and came down into the players' locker room after the loss.

The men in red themselves sounded inconsolable on Saturday.

Their mood appeared to have brightened by the time they had returned to to greet their worshipping fans.

Forward received a rousing reception despite making a mess of Russia's penalty kicks.

"I am so happy to be a citizen of Russia," he told the crowd.

"No other team in the world has fans like we do."

dedicated his four goals -- tied for second-most in the tournament behind England forward Harry Kane's six -- to "the whole country".

"Of course we wanted to go further," he admitted. "Thank you from the bottom of my soul -- we love you." Other players took turns thanking supporters before the ceremony ended with a rousing rendition of the Russian national anthem.

The entire ceremony was aired live on national TV.

"Yesterday, there were tears," said defender

"I had them and the guys did. They were tears from the loss, and tears of happiness. Thank you."

The 38-year-old came out of international retirement to play for one last time after depleted their defence.

He called an end to his playing career earlier in the day.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, July 08 2018. 20:35 IST