Marat Izmailov is a name well known to Israel coach Dror Kashtan. In 2001, as a 19-year-old, Izmailov, the up-and-coming talent of Russian soccer at the time, scored against Kashtan's Hapoel Tel Aviv in their UEFA Cup last-16 tie. Not that it helped Lokomotiv Moscow, which was dumped unceremoniously from the competition by the Tel Aviv side.
Five years later, Izmailov has failed to blossom into the kind of star the pundits had predicted, and he is still with Lokomotiv. Some commentators put it down to the enormous wages commanded today in Russian soccer that have dampened the desire of young Russian starlets to try their luck in Europe's top leagues.
Whatever the reason, Izmailov looks as if he has found a regular place on the Russian national side under its new coach, Guus Hiddink, and is expected to start against Israel on Saturday.
The attacking midfielder comes into the game after a week of mixed fortunes. Lokomotiv was knocked out of the UEFA Cup by Belgian minnows Zulte-Waregem, but moved to top of the Russian first division.
"The championship is all that we have left," says Izmailov, "but before that comes the national team."
Russia has found it difficult to score lately even though its strikers and midfielders are all fit and functioning well in the league. Don't you find that strange?
"Everything looks fine and there haven't been any problems in training either; but when it comes to official matches, scoring a goal is like a breach birth for us. A lot of people blame the strikers, but if you ask me, there's no point to that. Every attacking move begins in defense, so if no goals are scored, all 11 players are to blame, including the goalkeeper."
Do Russia coach Guus Hiddink and Lokomotiv coach Slavoljub Muslin have a fundamentally different approach to the game?
"I wouldn't say so. They actually have quite similar demands. From me personally, both coaches expect me to create tension around the opponent's goal - in other words, to make the final pass, shoot at goal and of course to score. At Lokomotiv, we play a more defensive game, but that depends on the opponent."
What did Hiddink ask of you in Russia's match against Croatia?
"I received instructions to play on the right and to attack, but that doesn't mean that I will always be asked to play like that."
Will you be asked to play a similar role against Israel?
"That's up to the coach. At home, we need to aspire to beat every opponent - even if it's an organized and balanced team like Israel.
Do you remember anything from the matches against Hapoel Tel Aviv?
"I remember scoring, but I also remember the final result, which is what counts. I hope things end differently this time."
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