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The country’s relationship with FIFA’s most prestigious competition began at Sweden 1958, where the USSR produced a respectable finish for the debuting side: reaching the quarter-final before losing to the hosts 2-0.
The captain of that team, who also scored the Soviets’ opening goal at the tournament, is 91-year-old Nikita Simonyan. Despite his age, he is still working hard for the good of the sport nationwide as First Vice-President of the Russian Football Union and Ambassador for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Recently, he represented Russia as one of the draw assistants during the FIFA World Cup Final Draw in December last year.
Simonyan’s personal moment of glory came in the Soviet Union’s 2-2 draw in their opening match against England, when he broke the deadlock in the 13th minute. However, the former striker remains humble about his achievement.
Nevertheless, you cannot underestimate Simonyan's role in Russian football history; in many ways, he is Russian football. Simonyan recently sat down for an interview with FIFA.com to revisit the World Cup 60 years ago and share his thoughts on the upcoming tournament on home soil for Russia.
Playing at the 1958 World Cup:
"There are many different competitions, such as domestic leagues and cups. I also won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games held in Melbourne. However, only the World Cup can truly confer the title of the best international team on the planet: there is no comparison with any other tournament. So, I am proud to have played at the sixth World Cup in Sweden in 1958, when the Soviet Union reached the quarter-finals.
Russia’s aims in 2018:
"The first task is always the same: qualify from the group. To play in the semi-final or win the tournament, you need to complete the first step and then set a new objective. It would be a huge success if our players reached the last four."
Russia’s captain and leader:
"Igor Akinfeev is Russia’s best player at the moment; everyone respects him in the squad. The position of goalkeeper carries huge responsibility. I was a striker: if I scored one chance out of three, I’d receive praise, while if a keeper makes five difficult saves but lets an easy one in, people would say he lost the game.
"I can’t help but remember Lev Yashin, whom I played with in the national team. A goalkeeper exudes a sense of confidence to all outfield players, especially his defenders. Akinfeev’s best qualities are his reactions and organisation. He has a fine strike on him as well and can hit the ball 60 or 70 metres. The most important thing is his confidence and reliability. He’s an outstanding keeper, although Yashin is considered the best of all time."
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