The Russia No.1 has come under scrutiny in recent months due to patchy club form and his high-profile blunder against South Korea in the World Cup means no easing of pressureCOMMENT
By Peter Staunton in Cuiaba
Igor Akinfeev fronted up after his high-profile error gifted South Korea the lead in Russia's opening World Cup Group H game on Tuesday night. It would have been the easy option for the CSKA Moscow man to duck out of his media duties but, to his credit, he walked into the throng of Russian reporters and faced the music - albeit with his eyes to the floor like a condemned man.
"It was a kid's mistake," he said. "I take full responsibility for it. The goalkeeper of the national team should not be making errors like that."
Akinfeev, who has six times been named Russian goalkeeper of the year, had just fumbled Lee Keun-Ho's tame effort over the line to hand the initiative to the Asians before Alexander Kerzhakov equalised. It was not Akinfeev's only mistake on the night. On at least three other occasions he spilled routine shots into his goalmouth. He was lucky that no Korean was around to take advantage.
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Akinfeev, now in his 11th year as an international, has faced competition for the No.1 shirt before with Vyacheslav Malafeev and Vladimir Gabulov preferred at times during his period with the national team. Calls for the inclusion of young Zenit St Petersburg pretender Yuri Lodygin may increase after Akinfeev's howler. "Lodygin is already at Akinfeev's level and I can see him taking over in the near future," former Spartak Moscow president Andri Chervichenko told Sports.ru earlier in the year.
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Calls for Akinfeev to be dropped in favour of the Zenit man may be hasty but it will certainly be on coach Fabio Capello's mind, despite his assertions to the contrary in the post-match press conference. Don't forget that he was ruthless in his jettisoning of England's Robert Green following his blunder against United States in the opening game of World Cup 2010. What he had to say about Green then bears uncanny resemblance to his quotes about Akinfeev now. "A keeper can always make a mistake," the Italian remarked. "We can accept a mistake from a great goalkeeper, which is what Akinfeev is."
Lodygin only has three caps to his name but his statistics will appeal to Capello. He has conceded only once in Russian colours, on his debut against South Korea, and kept clean sheets against Slovakia and Morocco - arguably their best warm-up display. However, he has just completed only his first season of first-team football in Russia.
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For Capello, it is history repeating. In 2010, as now, Algeria were in his team's group and Germany lay in wait for those who failed to finish top. Belgium already have a two-point headstart on the Russians and that is exactly how things are shaping up.
Next up is the Belgians in the Maracana with qualification chances at stake. Capello needs to decide whether it is riskier to leave Akinfeev out or to keep him in. Once the trust goes between a defence, their goalkeeper and his coach, trouble starts.
Russians here have made reference to the different mentality of Lodygin, who is Greek. He is more laid back they reason - more 'European' as they put it - and is unlikely to be flustered by the conditions Russia will face on Sunday in Rio. In that respect, what Akinfeev had to say after his mistake was illustrative. "Maybe I wasn't sure of myself," he said.