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Gladiator Popov ready to defend Dinamo

MFK Dinamo Moskva goalkeeper Aleksei Popov says the atmosphere generated by the fans of final opponents FC Barcelona makes him feel like a gladiator and explained his ambitious drive.

Aleksei Popov cannot wait to face the Barcelona crowd in Lleida
Aleksei Popov cannot wait to face the Barcelona crowd in Lleida ©Sportsfile

MFK Dinamo Moskva goalkeeper Aleksei Popov admits that FC Barcelona are slight favourites to win Sunday's UEFA Futsal Cup final – but he points out they were against Chelsea FC in the UEFA Champions League too.

Popov was in the Dinamo squad that won the trophy in Murcia five years ago and has since graduated to first choice, keeping a fine clean sheet in Friday's 3-0 semi-final defeat of Marca Futsal. That means a showdown with the hosts in Lleida.

"Considering home advantage I think Barcelona should be considered as slight favourites," Popov told UEFA.com. "But Barcelona were favourites against Chelsea and also Real Madrid were favourites against Bayern München in the recent Champions League semi-finals."

In fact, so were Interviú Madrid in the 2007 final against Dinamo, when the Russian champions – who had lost to the very same side 12 months before - snatched the trophy, and Popov is relishing the chance to deny the Spanish fans once again. "To be honest, for me is a huge boost even if the fans are against me," Popov said. "This huge crowd and noise transports me to the Ancient Roman era when the sport was born. It's like being a gladiator. It allows you to concentrate 100% and give everything you have."

He did that pretty well already on Friday, making 14 saves to keep out Marca. "It was a really tough match," Popov said. "The pressure was too high so despite being a goal up we allowed our opponents too much space and they were able to create some really good chances. Counterattacks were part of our game plan at that moment but we certainly didn't want to defend that deep."

Popov's crowning moment was supplying Romulo to shoot into an unguarded net with a minute to go to set up what more many neutrals was the dream final. "Barcelona have so many great players in their squad," he said. "I can't even pick out just one. This team consists of Spanish, Brazilian and Italian internationals – these are the greatest in futsal."

But there is one Spaniard on Popov's side – Dinamo's coach. "Working with Faustino Pérez is absolutely fantastic," said Popov. "He brought so many new things to our club. We concentrate a lot on the psychological aspect of the game and there is a lot of individual work with goalkeepers, unlike the experience I've had before.

"Any pundit would agree – a club can't win trophies without having a decent goalkeeper in their squad," Popov added. "So it is easy to understand, I have to constantly improve to allow my team a chance of winning. That what drives me in my career. And that's why I admire Tino's professional approach.

"What's the best thing about sport? The best thing about sport is that you always have to prove you are better. And what is the worst thing about sport? No matter how good you are, you always have to prove you are better."