- Associated Press - Sunday, June 22, 2014

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Fabio Capello hasn’t entirely given up hope for his Russian squad at the World Cup in Brazil, even if he’s already planning for 2018.

After losing 1-0 to Belgium on Sunday, Russia will need a few breaks to reach the knock-out stage. The victory moved Group H favorite Belgium into the second round and left Russia dangling with one point.

“Yes, I still believe,” Capello said, when asked if Russia would advance.

Capello just signed a lucrative contract to remain coach through the next World Cup, when Russia is hosting the tournament, so he’s got time to develop the squad.

Russia is playing in its first World Cup since 2002, when its only win was against Tunisia, so Capello knows this may be a practice run.

“After not playing in the World Cup in 12 years, this tournament does a great service to us,” he said. “It helps us understand the level at which we need to compete.”

Capello’s squad of entirely Russian-based players has showed glimpses of potential, pressuring Belgium for long stretches at the Maracana, but lacked quality finishing. And it hasn’t been particularly lucky in Brazil.

The Russians had to settle for a 1-1 draw with South Korea in their first match when goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev let a ball squirm through his hands and into the goal.

In Sunday’s loss, after having calls for a penalty ignored in the first half, Russia was pressuring for the winner immediately before Belgium went on a counter-attack and scored teenager Divock Origi scored in the 88th minute.

“The result was unfair,” Capello said. “But the truth is we lost. We had chances to win. … Unfortunately it was Belgium that was able to make it.”

As one of the game’s highest paid coaches, Capello earned a reported $9 million coaching England at the 2010 World Cup. England reached the knock-out stage, and then went out against Germany.

Russia plays Algeria on Thursday in its last group match.

A Capello-coached England drew 0-0 with Algeria four years ago in a group match in South Africa.

“Well, we will play this (upcoming) match, and that is the only one that counts,” he said, playing down any comparisons.


Stephen Wade on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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