World Cup 2018 Review: Russia - 3 Best Performers
Nobody expected Russia to take Croatia to penalties. Nobody expected Russia to overcome the Spanish juggernaut. Hell, nobody expected Russia to get out of the Group Stages. Branded the worst Russian footballing unit ever assembled together, Stanislav Chercheshov's band of fighters rallied under their astute manager and the unstinted support of a deliriously surprised home crowd to a glorious quarterfinal run that showcased the very best of Russian values - dogged defiance in the face of insurmountable odds.
Here, we try to pick out the three most pivotal protagonists of this fairytale.
Note - This is part of a series that evaluates the three best performers of all the sides to have progressed to the knockout stages of the World Cup; an achievement that is not often given the credit it deserves. While the intent is to have an objective selection and ranking process, it's quite natural that at times subjectivity creeps in. If you disagree - vehemently, or otherwise - with the names on this list, please feel free to jot down a top 3 of your own in the comments section below
#3 Sergei Ignashevich
Sergei Ignashevich was born in 1979. He really shouldn't be able to play professional football in 2018 -- certainly not elite level professional football. In a sport where fitness and stamina and speed have become more important than ever, where physical conditioning often trumps pure footballing skill, he really shouldn't have been able to keep up.
Just, no one told him that.
Barring an unlucky own-goal he conceded against Sergio Ramos and Spain, Ignashevich had a superb, superb, World Cup - marshaling his defence astutely against far superior (on paper) opposition, using his vast experience to spread an eerie calm across the backline, and leading by example - no one's defended better than him in the entire tournament.
Ignashevich's individual performance mirrored that of Russia's - defiant, courageous, skillful, and utterly masterful.