Next Friday, when Russia get their campaign underway at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013, Alexander Zuev will have a chance to realise one of the greatest dreams of his young life. The pacy winger will be representing his country under the hot lights of the global arena for the first time.
An integral part of the European champions’ qualification for UAE 2013, the man who wears the No11 shirt played in every one of Russia’s games at the UEFA U-17 Championship, which was held in Slovakia this May. The only blot on his record is that he failed to find the net in any of his five outings.
But the Akademia Chertanovo prodigy has bigger ambitions. In a brief chat with FIFA.com Zuev declared that winning UAE 2013 for his country was the only goal he and his team-mates were focused on. Speaking with self-assurance, the 1.75m Zuev declared: “It’s a huge honour for me to be playing for the Russian team, and we’ve already had a major achievement in winning the UEFA U-17 Championship. Our next goal is to put in an outstanding performance at the World Cup and carry off the title.”
Zuev and his team-mates face three hurdles in the form of their three Group D rivals: Tunisia, Venezuela and Japan. It is the East Asian passing specialists, Japan, who will be their first test, when they face off at the Sharjah Stadium on Friday 18 October.
We were a united team, a single unit.
Russia have already shown they can play their best football regardless of the quality of their opponents, having beaten Sweden on penalties in the semi-finals of the UEFA U-17 Championship after extra time had ended in a scoreless draw. They managed to repeat the feat in the tournament’s final against Italy to win their second-ever European trophy.
“It was an exciting competition for us,” Zuez reminisced: “It’s always better to finish a game off before it gets to penalties because so much hangs on those moments and there’s a lot of tension. We had many opportunities to score and it was painful watching the shoot-out unfold. But fortune smiled on us in the end.”
“I didn’t take part in the shoot-out,” he added with a longing in his voice, “which was the coach’s decision. But it’s impossible to describe how I felt at the time. Those were some really difficult and tense moments.”
A second chance
Though Zuev did not score in Slovakia and was kept away from the penalty spot in the final two games, team coach Dmitry Khomukha gave his winger a second chance by picking him for the finals in UAE. For Zuev himself, teamwork always trumps personal glory: “Of course I regret missing out on my chances and not scoring, but for me individual success counts for less than winning as a team, and that’s what we achieved in Slovakia. We were a united team, a single unit.”
And how does he feel about the tournament ahead? Zuev was full of confidence: “Taking part in the U-17 World Cup is a massive achievement and source of pride for me. It’s every boy’s dream to play in a World Cup. Now, I just want to score at it, because that’s another one of my goals.”
The ambitious youngster certainly has his heart set on his goals. But none is more important than the goal of raising the trophy on 8 November with his team-mates by his side.