Peter Schmeichel says Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev “deserves a statue” in his honor after he produced a stunning penalty shootout display to help Russia beat Spain and qualify for the World Cup quarter-final.
Akinfeev made an incredible stop to deny Spain’s Iago Aspas – the Russian ‘keeper’s second save of the shootout – to help Russia clinch a 4-3 win on penalties at Luzhniki and send the hosts into the quarter-finals.
Russian skipper Akinfeev’s heroics came after the teams could not be separated at 1-1 for the 90 minutes and extra time. Sergei Ignashevich’s own goal had given Spain the lead on 14 minutes, while Artem Dzyuba’s penalty equalized for the hosts just before half time.
Spain dominated possession in Moscow but Russia held firm, setting the stage for Akinfeev’s stunning display in the shootout, when he first denied Koke and then saved from Aspas, diving to his right and sticking out a leg to divert the ball away from goal.
Goalkeeping great Schmeichel – who during a glittering career won the European Championship with Denmark and Champions League with Manchester United – was full of praise for Akinfeev.
“He had this kind of game, he was fantastic, he dealt with what Spain created,” Schmeichel said.
He had predicted that once the game went to penalties, Akinfeev would emerge as the key protagonist, saying: “We know he has this reputation as being a good penalty saver.”
Spain had fully 75 percent of possession in the game, making 800 more passes than Russian as they attempted to break the deadlock during normal time and extra time – but to little effect.
Schmeichel said that while the Russian performance in frustrating Spain had not always been easy on the eye, it had been effective and had played to the team’s strengths.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was gritty, and sometimes football matches are won like that,” Schmeichel said.
“The Russian players fought and fought and fought and never gave up.”
The former Denmark great said he had sensed the nerves from Spain captain Sergio Ramos as they held the toss for the shootout.
“You could hear Ramos sounded nervous… you could sense the nerves…,” he said.
Although Ramos stepped up to fire his spot-kick home, as did Andres Iniesta, teammates Koke and Aspas saw their kicks saved by an inspired Akinfeev.
“We see statues of the heroes all around Russia… Akinfeev deserves a statue after today,” Schmeichel said.
In a land that gave the world arguably the finest 'keeper ever in Lev Yashin, few would now argue if a monument to Akinfeev took pride of place on one of the nation's streets.