Appearing in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the fifth time in eight seasons, PFC CSKA Moskva are relishing the opportunity to test themselves against Europe's elite once more, according to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
Winners of the 2012/13 Russian Premier League, the Army Men had the briefest of continental campaigns last season, losing 2-1 on aggregate to AIK in the UEFA Europa League play-offs. Akinfeev, though, insists he and his team-mates are under no pressure to make up for lost time as they begin their Group D campaign at holders FC Bayern München on Tuesday.
"We have one aim: to go onto the pitch and try to win," he told UEFA.com. "But if we can't do that, we'll play with our heads held high. You can't always beat the best teams in the world, so it is important to simply be who we are. Some of us have played 60 matches in European competitions and the majority play for their national teams, so I don't see any problems [in terms of experience]."
Often linked with other European teams, Akinfeev insists he remains happy at the club where he broke into the first team aged 17 in 2003. "Some people think they are at CSKA because of the history of the club but that has nothing to do with me," said the Russia No1.
"I understand that CSKA is a legendary club. These four letters might not be important to everybody, but they mean something to me. I've been here since I was four and a half – I grew up in CSKA's academy. I feel part of the fabric of this place, it's a second home for me. I'm at the club headquarters almost every day and speak with all the staff. I feel part of the family."
Akinfeev has earned plaudits for his displays for club and country, not least from CSKA coach Leonid Slutski, who regards the 27-year-old as the best goalkeeper in the world. But, despite such lofty praise, Akinfeev is determined to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
"I don't pay attention to compliments," he explained. "I try to stay focused on my responsibilities. I just want to play, help the team and try to extend my career as far as possible. I’m not interested in anything else."
However, Akinfeev, born in Vidnoe near Moscow, is extremely proud to have played a major part in CSKA's recent successes. "Besides the UEFA Cup win [2004/05], I've won the Russian league four times, as well as seven Russian Cups and five Russian Super Cups. Not everyone wins 18 trophies in ten years."
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