Five Russia players to watch
Russia play Saudi Arabia in the Opening Match of the 2018 World Cup on 14 June
We reveal the key players to the team’s success
Old favourites and future stars feature
By Igor Borunov with Russia
Russia cannot boast of any world-renowned stars at the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ and only two reserve players in the squad, Denis Cheryshev and Vladimir Gabulov, ply their trade abroad. However, this does not mean the Host Nation are not capable of causing a few surprises at the tournament. FIFA.com names the players who have it in them to lead the team and inspire the fans both domestically and abroad.
Igor Akinfeev, goalkeeper, 32
Akinfeev’s unshakeable self-confidence and charisma are qualities that allowed him to make his international debut aged only 18. Ever since, he has been the Sbornaya's undisputed first-choice goalkeeper. Of course, no one is invincible or immune to the occasional error, but when Igor is in the zone, getting the ball past him is nigh on impossible. Many pundits around the world are wondering whether the hosts will be able to deal with the pressure at the World Cup on home soil, but this concern will not have crossed Akinfeev’s mind once.
Sergei Ignashevich, centre-back, 38
As surprising as it may seem, the oldest player in the Russian national team is also one of the most inimitable. Throughout Russian and Soviet football history, no one else has continued playing international football to such an age. After initially retiring from the Sbornaya two years ago, Ignashevich answered the call to return from head coach Stanislav Cherchesov and will again be a key figure in defence. In his own words, “my job is simple: to win back the ball, give it to my team-mates, provide cover, play the ball out of defence and help the team.” Ignashevich does this better than anyone else in the squad.
Aleksandr Golovin, attacking midfielder, 22
At just 22, Golovin is the youngest member of the squad but has already proved himself vital to the team’s attack. The agile midfielder is a typically modern player who loves to play in a free role, often dropping deep into midfield or drifting into centre-forward. He possesses an excellent shot, including from range, and is capable of scoring some truly sublime goals. Despite his relative lack of experience, Russia fans are relying on him above all to be their creative spark at the World Cup. The tournament will also be a chance for Golovin to put himself in the shop window, as a number of top European clubs are rumoured to be interested in him.
Fyodor Smolov, striker, 28
Smolov was in the running to pick up his third consecutive Russian top-scorer award right until the end of last season, before eventually losing out to Dutch forward Quincy Promes by a solitary strike. The Sbornaya have recently found goals hard to come by, so Smolov is their main hope in this respect. During Cherchesov’s time at the helm, Smolov has scored seven goals, including a brace against Spain. He is intent on adding to that tally at the World Cup, where he is likely to be deployed as a lone striker.
Aleksandr Samedov, right winger, 33
Talking to Samedov, you are left in no doubt as to how fired up he is for Russia 2018. He recently declared, without a hint of hyperbole, that “it’s the biggest tournament of my life.” Although not guaranteed a starting spot at club level, his role for the national team cannot be overestimated. Over the last few years, his output in terms of goals and assists combined has been higher than anyone else in the squad. The player made his Sbornaya debut in 2011, played at the World Cup during Brazil 2014, but has only recently established himself as a first-team regular. He has that rare ability to arrive in the right place at the right time, a quality that could help the team meet the expectations of millions of fans this summer.