The former coach of Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has told RT about the factors that shaped the star’s rise to the top, after he produced a stunning performance in the World Cup penalty shootout win against Spain.
Russia captain Akinfeev was key to Russia’s progression to the World Cup quarter-finals, making two saves in the 4-3 shootout win against Spain in the last 16 clash – including a stunning stop from Iago Aspas to clinch victory.
His former coach Vyacheslav Chanov said he wasn’t surprised by the inspired shootout performance as the ‘keeper has “a unique ability to read the game.”
“No, I wasn't surprised by his calmness and stability. I’ve known him for a long time. We’ve been working together since he was a 14-year-old boy. As CSKA school sports director I was obliged to watch matches between school teams and it was the moment I noticed Igor. Even back then I was impressed by his unique ability to read the game. If a goalkeeper reads the game he can easily predict players’ next actions.”
Specifically, Chanov noticed how Akinfeev seemed to predict where some of the Spanish players would place their penalty kicks.
“Talking about his incredible shootout saves against Spain, I saw how his eyes changed after the second conceded penalty shot.
“He started analyzing the shots and I understood that everything would be great. I was 200 percent confident he would save at least one shot, but he managed to beat the target having saved two penalties,” the coach said.
Akinfeev has been feted as a national hero for his performance against Spain, and has earned more than 100 caps for ‘Sbornaya’ – although he has faced low points during his career, including needing treatment for recurrent knee injury issues.
“Every goalkeeper is a unique person,” Chanov said. “Igor is very temperamental by nature and we only needed to awake his inner power. He is forced to treat a knee joint from time to time after the two serious injuries he sustained during his goalkeeping career.
“When I was asked how much time it would take to bring Akinfeev back after the injury, I said two weeks. Nobody believed me, but I was right, because I know Akinfeev’s character.”
Akinfeev was criticized during last summer’s Confederation’s Cup defeat to Mexico, which saw the team exit at the group stage partly as a result of a blunder from the keeper when he rushed from his line.
Chanov said however that Akinfeev had worked on his game to the extent that he could now dispense advice to his former coach.
“Back then [when he started coaching Akinfeev] he was a boy to whom I opened goalkeeping secrets: where to jump, how to hold his hands. Now he is a an accomplished goalkeeper with his own style and manner. He comes off his line only when it’s really necessary.
“But before he could recklessly leave the goal. He has become more experienced and mature. We have known each other for a long time, and several years ago it was me who gave him advice, but now he can recommend something to me.”
Chanov said that Akinfeev’s World Cup performances haven’t gone unnoticed by foreign clubs possibly looking to swoop after the tournament – despite the ‘keeper being 32 years old.
“Yes, I think so that [he was spotted by foreign clubs],” he said. “I retired from sport at the age of 44 playing for a German third league club. When you come to a foreign club you need to be three times stronger than local players to secure a place in a team.”
But he cautioned that a move abroad might not be high on Akinfeev’s agenda, given he seems happy at CSKA Moscow – the club he has spent his whole career at.
“If Akinfeev feels comfortable in CSKA, why should he leave the club? It’s up to him to decide whether he needs to play abroad or not.”
Whether he moves on or not, Akinfeev’s place in Russian football history is already secure.