(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –Russia will wake up across its 11 sprawling time zones to a new national hero on Monday.
In a land where goalkeepers are revered, Russia’s number one Igor Akinfeev inspired the World Cup hosts to an unlikely penalty shootout victory against highly fancied Spain.
The result sparked wild celebrations across Russia, as Patrick Jennings discovered while watching from a bar in the southern city of Samara.
The toast was to victory – “our victory” – and to “Lev Yashin the goalkeeper, our greatest ever player”.
Dima’s voice was already hoarse before extra time even got started in this sweaty Samara bar where the air temperature was about 32C and the atmosphere was even hotter.
The mood was optimistic but still probably nobody among the packed crowd would believe it if you told them: in 20 minutes’ time, Igor Akinfeev will write his own new heroic chapter for Russia, the World Cup hosts who were so widely expected to fail before this special tournament started.