At his 26, Igor Akinfeev is one of Russia’s most experienced players. Yet for the first time in recent years he is not currently regarded as Russia’s firm first-choice keeper, but as one of two equal candidates. So he has a lot to prove at the Euros.
Full name: Igor Vladimirovich Akinfeev
Club: CSKA Moscow
Caps for Russia: 52
Goals for Russia: 0
Akinfeev’s career hasn’t yet reached its highest point, but it seems he has played on the Russian national side forever. Indeed, the CSKA Moscow stronghold has eight years on the country’s first team under his belt. When he made his debut in April 2004 at the age of just over 18 no one imagined how rapid his rise would be.
Akinfeev was Russia’s reserve goalkeeper at Euro 2004 and sat on the bench until that autumn. After Zenit’s Vyacheslav Malafeev conceded 7 goals in a game against Portugal in the World Cup qualifiers however, the Muscovite seized his opportunity and occupied team Russia’s net for a long time.
Akinfeev consolidated his place on the national team with exceptional performance at club level. Everything CSKA Moscow won in the 21st century was with him at the final frontier. Three Russian Premier League crowns, five Russian Cups, four Russian Super Cups and the 2005 UEFA Cup on top. Add to that his five individual awards as the country’s best keeper and you will see how important he has been for CSKA and Team Russia.
So what makes Akinfeev so irreplaceable for his club and the Sbornaya? Well, first of all, his amazing confidence, which he passes on to his partners. Sometimes it seems he doesn’t even have to do anything exceptional in the net as the ball will inevitably find him. Occasionally this can turn into overconfidence, making him score own goals, as happened in the Euro 2012 qualifier against Slovakia. But making all the necessary amendments, he then got Team Russia through in the next few games, pulling some unbelievable tricks including saving penalties at the most crucial moments.
His only weak point, perhaps, is that he is prone to injuries. His knee injury cost CSKA dearly in 2007, but what happened in August 2011 turned into a complete nightmare for him and CSKA fans. He tore the same knee ligament again in a collision with Spartak Moscow’s Welliton during the biggest Russian derby and was forced to miss more than seven months, which resulted in CSKA dropping to third place in the league.He returned triumphantly to the pitch in April, but it was too late to save the situation.
Curiously enough, Vyacheslav Malafeev, the man he edged in the national team eight years ago, replaced Igor in the net and after a series of brilliant performances became Dick Advocaat’s first choice. Now it’s all up to Akinfeev to prove which man deserves the place the most.
Aleksey Kiselev-Romanov, RT
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