FIFA World Cup 2018: Russia's tournament fortunes rest in hands of veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev
Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is the elder statesman of a ragtag team whose preparations for their first World Cup on home soil have been marred by injuries.
Moscow: Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is the elder statesman of a ragtag team whose preparations for their first World Cup on home soil have been marred by injuries.
The 32-year-old has played 104 times for his country and turned his once middling Red Army club CSKA Moscow into a perennial title contender.
He still admits to being haunted by a speculative shot that softly hit his palms and arched in over his head in Russia's 2014 World Cup opener against South Korea.
The error set the stage for Russia's early elimination.
But his reflex saves in two warm-up games against Brazil and France in March were hailed as the bright spots of otherwise pitiful team showings.
"Years ago, I said he could end up being the world number one," former Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn said.
"Yes, he always made little mistakes, but I think he still has time to write his name into history."
Akinfeev will wear the captain's armband when the hosts kick off the tournament before adoring crowds on June 14 against Saudi Arabia.
Russia's three top defenders are all injured and Akinfeev's reliability will be crucial if the men in red are to make it to the knockout stage of their first World Cup.
The engaging Moscow native with a winning smile and cool demeanour would seem to be the calming presence Russia need.
Akinfeev has won six domestic titles and a UEFA cup in 2005.
He was named Russia's goalkeeper of the year for a record 10th time this season.
And his 669 appearances for club and country far surpass those of Soviet goalkeeping legends Lev Yashin and Rinat Dasayev.
But Akinfeev remains the one outstanding player in Russian football to have never plied his trade in one of the big European leagues.
His planned transfer to England was foiled by a serious injury that ruled him out for much of 2007 and turned him into one of the modern game's rare one-team stars.
The India captain is also just a goal away from entering world football's all-time top-10. He is behind Hungary's Sandor Kocsis, Japan's Kunishige Kamamoto, and Kuwait's Bashar Abdullah, who all have 75 goals.
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