- Sergei Ignashevich is Russia's most-capped player and their oldest-ever player
- He retired from the national team in 2016 but returned for the World Cup
- “I’m happy we qualified because it has extended my international career”
By Igor Borunov with Russia
Having scored eight goals in their first two games at the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, Russia’s attack fully merits all the plaudits heading in their direction. However, the Sbornaya’s defence also deserves a mention for only conceding one goal in 180 minutes of play – a penalty from Mohamed Salah.
A huge hand in this achievement was played by 38-year-old centre-back Sergei Ignashevich, who accepted Stanislav Cherchesov’s call to return after almost two years away from the national team following an injury crisis that claimed Georgy Dzhikiya, Viktor Vasin and Ruslan Kambolov. Nevertheless Ignashevich modestly explains how Russia’s superlative rear-guard effort is credit to the whole side.
“We prepared well, so qualifying from the group is the deserved result for the work we've done,” Ignashevich said. “Our coaches analysed our opponents in detail and we attacked their weak spots. We hit Saudi Arabia and Egypt where it hurt.
“The lads in midfield, Yuri Gazinsky and Roman Zobnin especially, are getting through an unbelievable amount of work in front of the defence. Maybe it’s not that obvious from the sidelines, but Ilya Kutepov and I really feel it. Essentially we just have to make sure we stay error-free.”
The squad have already put their first two wins behind them, as they now face a real test against battle-hardened Uruguay. The experienced defender knows what to expect from this game.
“Every player must do their jobs well in their positions,” Ignashevich continued. “I’m currently thinking about how to keep out [Edinson] Cavani and [Luis] Suarez. They are two strikers who press fantastically and score most of Uruguay’s goals. This is worrying me; I’m examining how they play, how they link together and which decisions they make, then I'll draw my own conclusions.”
Ignashevich is a model professional, which has allowed him to continue being a key player for both CSKA Moscow and Russia, despite turning 39 the day before the World Cup Final. He can be found on the exercise bike over an hour and a half before the start of training.
“I’m aware this is the last tournament for me, so I’m very happy that we qualified from the group – it’s extending my career for the national team. Getting to the World Cup knockout stage is probably beyond all of our childhood dreams. We’re enjoying the moment and trying to go as far as possible.”
It is hard to restrain from asking the question on everyone’s mind: is Ignashevich hoping to combine his birthday celebrations with an appearance in the World Cup Final?
“The final is the following day,” the defender joked, “so it’d probably be the third-place play-off, but it’s not worth saying these things aloud.”