As he held aloft a shirt covered with his team-mates' signatures, Denis Cheryshev struggled to explain the "indescribable feeling" of having become the first Russian to play an official game for Real Madrid CF.
It has been an intense six weeks for the Nizhny Novgorod-born forward who helped Russia reach the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals with a play-off victory against the Czech Republic before making his senior debut in a 2-2 friendly draw against the United States. Cheryshev went on to realise one of his lifetime ambitions after making the starting XI for Tuesday night's Copa del Rey round of 32 victory against third-tier CD Alcoyano.
"Ever since I arrived at the club as an 11-year-old I have dreamed of this moment," said Cheryshev, now 22. "It's an indescribable feeling but I am very happy and want to continue working hard so I can celebrate more achievements like this one."
Cheryshev was replaced by Ángel Di María after 61 minutes but will cherish the memory of his first Madrid appearance and is keen to repeat the experience as soon as possible. "When I came off it was an emotional moment because José Mourinho came out to hug me," he said. "[Prior to the game] the coach told me he had a lot of confidence in me and that I had to do tonight what I have been doing with the youth team up until now. I want to continue to earn his trust. I'm definitely going to keep this shirt, especially as all the players have signed it for me."
A predominantly left-footed player, Cheryshev can operate on either flank and likes to drift inside to test goalkeepers with his powerful shooting. He arrived in Spain in 1996 when his footballing father Dmitri switched from FC Dinamo Moskva to Real Sporting de Gijón, where he scored 35 goals in 119 league appearances over five seasons.
"Denis is a very stubborn boy and you can be sure he'll fight tooth and nail in order to prove that he can be a regular first-team player at Madrid," Dmitri said. "He has worked hard for his debut and now must go on to be better than his dad, which is why I am going to be a real pain around him and be very demanding."
Madrid's assistant coach Aitor Karanka, meanwhile, spoke of Denis having "a marvellous future". He went on to add that the entire coaching staff had been impressed with the player's "progression and maturity" with the club's youth team, Real Madrid Castilla, where he has made 73 league appearances and scored 15 times.
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