Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s blunder against South Korea cost Russia three points in their opening World Cup game, but manager Fabio Capello still intends to have the CSKA Moscow player in net versus first-place Belgium Sunday.
The 28-year-old bobbled a save on Keun-Ho Lee’s long range shot and Russia wound up drawing 1-1 with South Korea, and is now in a must-win situation against Belgium to stay alive in Group H.
“Just like some players can miss penalties it can happen that a keeper makes a mistake as well,” Capello said. “You can accept a mistake from a great keeper like Akinfeev.
"It turned out fine as we were able to make up the difference. I'm very happy with him.”
The play could be viewed as nothing more than a fluke considering Akinfeev’s accomplishments. He was named as Player of the Year in Russian Premier League in 2013 and Akinfeev’s been part of five championship squads at home.
But there will be little room for any more Akinfeev errors against a Belgium squad featuring such high-level attackers like midfielder Eden Hazard and striker Romelu Lukaku.
For the last two years Hazard has totaled 32 goals in all competitions for Chelsea, and Lukaku’s 15 goals on-loan to Everton lifted the club to its best showing in Premier League in years.
But neither star scored during Belgium’s stunning 2-1 come-from-behind against Algeria, which only furthers the idea that this team has plenty of talent across the pitch and is capable of improving as the tournament progresses. After failing to qualify for the last two Cups, a victory at Maracana in Rio assures Belgium first in the group and its fifth all-time trip to the Round of 16.
Capello is hoping to guide Russia out of the group stage for the first time in 28 years, when it was known as the Soviet Union, but the decorated manager also likely has intentions of redefining an international career marred by his disappointing Round of 16-exit with England in 2010.
Any chance for Russian success begins by attacking injured Belgian defender and captain Vincent Kompany. The Manchester City center back is nursing a groin strain, and though Belgium only conceded a penalty against Algeria, any sign of wear and tear on Kompany shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Unfortunately Russia doesn’t have top playmaker Roman Shirokov to anchor the midfield due to injury, but forward Alexander Kerzhakov, 31, emerged against South Korea and is still a player who could propel his country much higher than expected. Three minutes after Kerzhakov entered the game, he scored the 26th international goal of his career.
Capello also didn’t unleash midfielder Alan Dzagoev in the first match, which could make all the difference against Belgium. Another star for CSKA Moscow, Dzagoev’s totaled 50 goals and 41 assists in 177 matches throughout his entire career.
Start Time: Sunday, 12 p.m.
TV Channel: ABC
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: (bovada.lv)
Over/Under: 2.5 goals
Prediction: Belgium 2-2 Russia