Leonov, Russia’s golden captain
Sitting alone in a corner of the dressing room as his celebrating team-mates headed for the showers, Russian captain Ilya Leonov looked down at the trophy in his hands. Still wearing his kit, the skipper eventually lifted a hand from the piece of silverware and took hold of a mobile phone. On the other end of the line were his family and though FIFA.com could not make out exactly what the Russian star was saying, chances are it was something like this: “Mum, I’ve won the adidas Golden Ball.”
The award capped a truly memorable day for Leonov and his team-mates, who just minutes earlier had completed a stunning 12-8 win over the four-time world champions to win their maiden world title. Recognised for their collective strengths, the fact that the Russians should also have the outstanding individual performer at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011 in their ranks, underlined the extent to which they dominated the world finals.
“I could never have imagined this,” a still disbelieving Leonov told FIFA.com. “I know that everybody says this but, in our case, I guarantee that it’s truer than ever: this trophy isn’t mine alone. In a team like ours, everything happens because of all 12 players, the ten outfield players and the two keepers. It’s all of ours.”
That said, even Russia coach Mikhail Likhachev, who has repeatedly stressed the importance of his side’s collective strength, saw fit to highlight Leonov’s exceptional contribution throughout Ravenna 2011. “Having such a competitive team sets us apart, no doubt about it,” Likhachev said. “But it’s no bad thing having someone who’s performed as outstandingly as Leonov. He truly was the tournament’s best player.”
Goals aplenty, but not enough
With Leonov coming away with the adidas Golden Ball and the adidas Golden Glove going to Russian custodian Andrey Bukhlitskiy, the final major individual award went to Brazil’s Andre. Not that the latter was able to take too much consolation from the adidas Golden Boot secured thanks to his 14 goals.
“Of course it’s good to score goals at decisive times, but these ones came too late and that’s all that matters,” said Andre, on his six-goal haul in the final, which featured four strikes in the third and final period.
Having also netted five times in Brazil's 10-8 quarter-final win over Nigeria, the No9’s fine displays earned him the adidas Silver Ball as the tournament’s second best player. “I can’t even think about that now,” said the attacker, clutching an award in each hand. “I didn’t win any individual awards at the last four tournaments but I was crowned world champion each time. I’d happily swap that situation for this one.”