Russia’s safe pair of hands
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The Kremlin in Moscow is ringed by a formidable wall assembled from solid red bricks. Russia’s metaphorical wall at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011 has a human form and bears the name Andrey Bukhlitskiy. The keeper, who is about to contest his fourth finals, has come to his team’s aid and rescue countless times in the past.

In 11 matches at the tournament, Bukhlitskiy has conceded a miserly 26 goals. It is a remarkably low average per game, and is boosted by an astonishing achievement at the Marseille finals in 2008, when the Russia shot-stopper kept a clean sheet for two matches in a row, a feat yet to be matched by any other custodian in the history of the traditionally high-scoring FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.

Despite his heroics, Bukhlitskiy is a modest character. "It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my team-mates. Every player on the team made his contribution, because we did it as a collective," the 29-year-old insisted when he spoke to FIFA.com.

All our group opponents pose a threat, but we’re obviously hoping to pull through – preferably as group winners. 
Russia keeper Bukhlitskiy ahead of the Beach Soccer World Cup

"Obviously, it would be terrific if we could do something like that again here in Ravenna, although it’ll be incredibly tough. But at the end of the day, all that matters to me is that we win and go as far as we can at the tournament. In the final analysis, that’s all that counts."

Russia are among the most fancied sides this time around, especially after a tremendous display in qualifying, when they booked a place at the Beach Soccer World Cup with a dramatic victory in a top-class encounter with no less a team than Spain.

"It was an incredibly important win for us," Bukhlitskiy reasoned. "If we’d lost to the Spanish, we’d have had to wait two years before having another crack at the World Cup, so we’re delighted we’re here right now on this wonderful beach."

Russia have been drawn into Group C with Nigeria, Tahiti and Venezuela. Bukhlitskiy’s focus is firmly fixed on the opening match against the Africans: "Your first match at a World Cup is always immensely important. We’re determined to win this one, and then we’ll start looking beyond it. Our plan is to take each match as it comes. All our group opponents pose a threat, but we’re obviously hoping to pull through – preferably as group winners."