Very reliable and very experienced, but still Number Two. Russia’s second-best keeper, Vyacheslav Malafeev, is always ready to step in and save the day for his country.
Full name: Vyacheslav Aleksandrovich Malafeev
Club: Zenit Saint Petersburg
Caps for Russia: 23
Vyacheslav Malafeev is a truly unbreakable man, who has managed to survive the heaviest blows both on and of the pitch.
Back in 2004, he was in goal when the national team suffered their worst defeat in modern history.
Visiting Russia were destroyed 7-1 by Portugal in a qualifier for the 2006 World Cup, which they eventually missed.
The team was abandoned by their coach, who left the bench a couple of minutes before the final whistle, and the goalie – by his defenders.
Unmarked Cristiano Ronaldo and Co kept firing from outside the box, leaving Malafeev absolutely no chance of reaching the ball.
In March last year, the blue Bentley of the goalkeeper’s wife, Marina, crashed on an icy Saint Petersburg road, leaving the man alone with two kids.
But Vyacheslav – or simply Slava – has managed to recover every time, returning to the game and doing what he does best – preventing strikers from scoring.
The 33-year-old is an icon for fans of Zenit Saint Petersburg – the club where he’s spent his whole career, appearing in nearly three hundred matches and winning everything possible in Russia as well the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
But the label of “Russia’s second-best keeper” holds him back from doing the same in the national team.
It’s arguable who’s actually better in goal, Malafeev or Igor Akinfeev. But the CSKA man has a certain image, which doesn’t allow coaches and fans to even imagine him sitting on the bench.
Many were hysterical when Akinfeev received a knee injury in the Moscow derby against Spartak before the three last matches of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.
A TV commentator forgot that he was also broadcasting live on the Internet and during a commercial break stated the following:“It’s ridiculous that some sh*t will be in our goal in the deciding games.”
That seemed quite enough already, but the man decided to add some unpleasant facts about the death of the keeper's wife.
Malafeev forced the commentator to apologize and asked him to donate any sum of money to any football school he liked to forget about the unpleasant incident.
But the place where he really answered all the skeptics was on the pitch as the Zenit goalie kept a clean sheet in all three matches for the Russian team, making sure they bagged a Euro 2012 ticket.
And it wasn’t the first time Malafeev had stepped up for his country. His debut for the national team didn’t come in a friendly, but in the second leg of the Euro 2004 qualifiers play-off against Wales.
The only shot he was unable to stop in Cardiff was the one from Ryan Giggs, but the ball hit the post and Russia went on to win 1-0.
The European Championships were a complete disappointment for the Russians, but their only victory – over future champs Greece – also came when Malafeev replaced red-carded Sergey Ovchinnikov in goal.
Vyacheslav was a reserve at Euro 2008, with Akinfeev starting in all the games for the bronze team of Guus Hiddink. And he’s most likely to be in the same position in Poland and Ukraine.
“Only three or four players may be sure of their place in the starting line-up,” Malafeev told Zenit’s official website. “And it’s even more complicated when it comes to keepers. The stronger man will play.”
“Russia’s only rivals at Euro 2012 are Russia themselves,” he added.
But coach Dick Advocaat is surely calm because he knows that if something happens to his No.1, there’s always Malafeev to take his place.
Dmirty Gorshkov, RT