Like many other top leagues across Europe, Russia’s Premier League resumed this week after a three-month pause.
Friday night gave Russian fans their first taste of football since life began under lockdown, with the headline fixture being fourth-placed FK Rostov’s trip to Sochi.
But many believe this match should’ve been called off, as 42 members of Rostov’s first-team and reserves had been forced into quarantine after six of their players tested positive for COVID-19 — but with Sochi refusing to postpone the fixture, Rostov had no choice but to field their inexperienced and under-prepared under-17 side.
The result was catastrophic.
Sochi, who were 12th in the league table heading into this game, made light work of Rostov’s young side; going 4-1 up inside the first-half and then scoring a further six in the second.
Russian international Aleksandr Kokorin scored a hat-trick, while Anton Zabolotnyi and Dmitri Poloz netted two goals each and Andrei Mostovoy, Ivan Novoseltsev and Nikita Koldunov all got on the scoresheet as well.
But it’s Rostov’s brave young goalkeeper Denis Popov who’s made all the headlines from the game.
17-year-old Popov made 15 saves — including a penalty save in the first-half — which has broken the Russian Premier League record for saves in a single match, and also earned him the Man of the Match award for his efforts.
Popov’s incredible display has thrust him into the limelight, and many fans believe he could go on to become Rostov’s first-choice goalkeeper for years to come — and maybe even the heir to Igor Akinfeev in the Russian national team.
In the meantime, Popov will likely have to play in Rostov’s next two games — including third-placed Krasnodar, one of their main rivals for a Champions League place.
With the league failing to give the side any assurances, the young team will probably face some even tougher tests in the next few weeks.
Watch the highlights of Popov’s brilliant display below.