Friday 23 June 2017, 14:56

Akinfeev playing a captain's part

  • Igor Akinfeev took the blame for Ronaldo's goal in 1-0 defeat to Portugal

  • The loss could have been greater had it not been for an excellent performance on his 100th cap

  • A lot depends on the Sbornaya captain in the final group stage match against Mexico

By Igor Borunov with Russia

The fans voted Cristiano Ronaldo as Budweiser Man of the Match when Portugal beat Russia, and with good reason: he is the biggest star at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 and scored the winning goal. However, there are a few reasons why Igor Akinfeev deserves a mention as the host nation's best performer against the Portuguese.

Firstly, he was called into action considerably more often than his opposite number, Rui Patricio, and put in an almost faultless display. The only time he came up short was when he failed to stop Ronaldo finding the net, although he did cope with two other dangerous strikes from the Portugal captain. The save of the match came in the 50th minute, when Andre Silva powered a header on goal, forcing Akinfeev to acrobatically change direction in mid-air and palm the ball off the line. His diving effort to beat away Bernardo Silva’s long-range attempt was also impressive, another highlight in a performance in which he almost single-handedly kept his team’s hopes for a draw alive.

Secondly, this performance came on Akinfeev’s 100th appearance for the Sbornaya, and it is not always easy to come up with the goods when expectations are so high. It would be hard to imagine a calmer individual in goal than Russia’s No1 on Wednesday evening.

After the game, Akinfeev offered his thoughts on his achievement and the result: "Thank you for congratulating me on my 100th appearance. You always want to mark these milestones with a victory, but it doesn’t matter. The lads fought hard. The goal we conceded was 80 per cent my fault. We will continue to work hard and hope we don’t commit any more stupid mistakes.

"The loss is tough to take because we had chances at the end," the Russia captain continued. "They weren't amazing chances, but they were chances nonetheless. It’s a nice feeling playing in front of your own fans. Step by step we’re moving in the right direction, getting the supporters behind the team. The most important thing is that we don’t lose momentum, and then everything will be fine."

A flash interview with Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.

Surprising admission Akinfeev’s concession that he was mostly to blame for the goal took everyone watching by surprise. Ronaldo was just a few yards out when he connected with Raphael Guerreiro’s cross, while the outfield players had failed to prevent Portugal from setting up a platform in Russia’s half, or to stop the cross at source and then properly mark the Seleccao das Quinas talisman, someone who simply cannot be left unattended in the penalty area.

Though the 31-year-old has only been wearing the captain’s armband for three months, he is no stranger to responsibility, having skippered CSKA Moscow at club level since 2008. Clearly, he was trying to deflect criticism away from his team-mates and shoulder the blame himself. He did not succeed in doing so, as the narrow defeat to the European champions still led to a painful inquest for the hosts. Akinfeev's words were those of a true captain, however.

Anything less than a victory will not be enough for Russia against Mexico, and a safe pair of hands will be needed to deal with Chicharito and Co. As long as the hosts have Akinfeev between the posts, they have no worries on that score; it is the attack that needs to deliver.