Keeper Keen to Erase '04 Memories

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev has a personal score to settle at Euro 2008 after the bitter memory of missing out four years ago on becoming the youngest player in tournament history.

At 18 years and two months, Akinfeyev was the youngest player at Euro 2004 in Portugal and hoped to break Belgian Enzo Scifo's 20-year record as the youngest ever to play in a European Championship finals.

Scifo made his Euro debut at 18 years three months and 25 days during the 1984 tournament in France.

Instead, Akinfeyev had to watch agonizingly from the bench as Russia lost its first two games against Spain and Portugal and became the first team to be eliminated.

"Although I came to Portugal as Russia's third-choice keeper, I was hoping to get a chance to play," the CSKA Moscow captain said on the eve of his team's departure for their Euro 2008 training camp in Germany on Sunday.

"After we lost our first two matches and were already eliminated, there was some talk on the team that I would get a chance to play in our last group game against Greece.

"Of course, I wanted to play, but the coach [Georgy Yartsev] decided otherwise, so there was nothing I could do other than sit on the bench and watch," recalled Akinfeyev, who made his Russian premier league debut in May 2003, soon after turning 17 and saved a penalty to keep a clean sheet in his first match.

"At 18, I was too young to think about it," said the Moscovite, who made his international debut in a friendly against Norway in April 2004, becoming the youngest goalkeeper ever to play for the national team, including the former Soviet Union.

"Only years later when you look back, you realize the importance of it. I could have made football history then.

"But there's no point in dwelling on it now because the more you think about it, the bigger the disappointment gets. So I prefer to look ahead to Euro 2008," he said.

"We have a good young team, and if we play to our abilities we have a chance to surprise a few people."

Soon after Euro 2004, Akinfeyev became Russia's undisputed No. 1, although a serious knee injury sidelined him for most of last year.

Coming back at the start of the 2008 season, he had to reclaim his place on the national team from Vladimir Gabulov and Vyacheslav Malafeyev, who showed great form in leading Zenit St. Petersburg to the UEFA Cup.

"[Coach] Guus Hiddink has yet to name his No. 1 keeper, so I expect a tough battle from both Gabulov and Malafeyev," said Akinfeyev, now considered one of the team's veterans at 22.

"One thing you know for sure: Unlike some previous coaches, with Guus there are no favorites and only the best will play."