Having got so close to the top of the mountain, Russia are determined to reach the peak according to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev ahead of their game with Spain.
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Having got so close to the top of the mountain, Russia are determined to reach the peak. That is the view of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev as they prepare to meet Spain in the semi-finals – an apt metaphor given not just the Alpine setting but the fact it has been an uphill struggle for Russia since losing their opening game to Luis Aragonés's side.
'We want more'
Russia looked likely to return home early after crashing 4-1 in Innsbruck, but just over two weeks later, after successive wins against Greece, Sweden and the Netherlands, they meet Spain for a second time confident of reaching the final. "Three of the goals [in the first game against Spain] were down to our mistakes," Akinfeev said. "We allowed classy strikers such as Fernando Torres and David Villa space. Everyone knows if you give them space they'll happily breeze past you. We pulled ourselves together and have been good since. Nobody is giving up. We want more.
"I wouldn't have believed we would go on to win three matches, especially given the feelings we had after the first game. Our thoughts were catastrophic. We had lost the first game 4-1, what could we do? Psychology is key at a time like that. A team can fall apart, like Greece did after losing their opening game. They didn't do anything at this tournament, while we were able to come together, like a fist, and fight our way out."
Akinfeev is happy Spain beat Italy in the quarter-finals to set up a rematch for the Group D rivals. "Italy didn't impress me with their results or their performances. They prefer to stay back and almost never go forward. They don't have the same flowing and bright football as Spain. It's more interesting for me to play Spain. They have top-class players in every position. You can only admire and learn from them because they play very well."
'Reach the peak'
Russia eased past the Netherlands in extra time to reach the last four, while Spain were pushed to the limit by the Azzurri, only advancing after penalties. Russia have never contested a shoot-out in a major competition and Akinfeev does not want to start now. "We shouldn't be afraid of anything," he said. "We have almost made it to the top of the mountain, but we want to reach the peak. Neither Spain nor us want penalties. It's not good for the nerves and only puts more grey hair on our heads."
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas was the spot-kick hero for Spain, but though some have drawn parallels between the Real Madrid CF star and his PFC CSKA Moskva counterpart, Akinfeev prefers to keep comparisons to a minimum. "We're two different goalkeepers," he said. "Maybe at some point our careers seemed similar as we both started at a young age at the highest level, but he's Spanish and I'm Russian. I am Akinfeev, he is Casillas. There is no duel. Whoever concedes fewer goals goes to the final." Despite being so close to it, Akinfeev refuses to think about Sunday 29 June just yet. "I'm trying not to think too much about it. Of course you always want more, but you have to prove it on the pitch. If we play well, why shouldn't we take this chance? Sometimes opportunities like this only come your way once in a lifetime."