30.12.2020

The story of 17-year-old Denis Popov: a striker as a child, he made his youth team debut a year ago

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We tell you everything you need to know about Rostov's best player against Sochi.

At first he played as a striker

On 29 August, Denis Popov will celebrate his 18th birthday. He is a graduate of the Rostov Academy, but started playing football in Volzhsky.

"In our city, it is normal to play football," Vladimir Popov, the player’s father, told Championat. “At first Denis was a striker, and then one day at the age of nine or 10, the team went to a tournament. There, the two main goalkeepers played badly, and the coach decided to put my son in goal, because Denis sometimes played there in training.

“As it turned out, my son had a great performance, and thanks to him the team came third. I asked him after the tournament: "What do you think, will you remain a goalkeeper?" Denis first said that he wouldn’t, but then something went wrong, so that’s where he's playing now."

He made his youth team debut a year ago

In the summer of 2019, Popov joined FC Rostov’s youth team. Then the side was coached by former Yellow-Blue defender Aleksandr Cherkes, but in the winter Zaur Tedeev was appointed instead. The latter had previously been head of the club's youth football development program, and it was he who replaced Valery Karpin for the Sochi match on 19 June.

Cherkes first picked the young goalkeeper a couple of weeks before his birthday on 12 August. Rostov played in the fifth round of the Youth Championship against Krylia Sovetov and were 2-1 down at half time. Popov started this match on bench, as he had for the previous four, but 11 minutes after coming on at the break he conceded to leave the final result 3-1. 

Nevertheless, after that defeat, Popov became the main goalie of the youth team and missed only three games out of 18. In General, the team failed to hold the youth championship, which ended prematurely after 22 rounds: it scored 22 points and finished in 12th place. But this distance was enough for Denis to become a bright figure in the team-all thanks to his ability to take penalties.

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Публикация от Denis Popov (@_den_46_)

Two saved penalties in consecutive matches

Popov’s first saved penalty this season came on 8 November in a match against FC Tambov's youth team. The 87th-minute moment was key for two reasons: FC Rostov had been down to 10 men since the first half, and three minutes after the save the referee awarded a penalty at the other end, which FC Rostov scored to win 1-0. On the next matchday, Popov again kept out a spot kick, but it did not help turn the game around against Dynamo - the Blue-Whites won 1-0.

After these feats, the 17-year-old goalkeeper already featured for the senior team, but as a reserve. He drew the attention of Valery Karpin's staff back in September. Popov was named on the bench for the RPL game against Akhmat Grozny and against Mordovia Saransk in the Russian Cup. Judging by another photo on his Instagram, the trip to Otkritie Arena, where FC Rostov beat Spartak Moscow 4-1 in December, was particularly memorable.

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Публикация от Denis Popov (@_den_46_)

Saved 17 shots on goal, and a penalty

Popov was on the bench for the October game against Sochi, but in the return game he was on the pitch. Along with his teammates, He was called urgently to play because of the main team’s quarantine. Despite the devastating 10-1 scoreline, the young goalkeeper more than played his part. According to InStat, he kept out 17 shots on goal [according to WhoScored.com, Popov has 15 saves - Premierliga.ru], and Anton Zabolotny realised first-hand how well the youngster can keep out penalties. Nevertheless, the hero himself considered it lucky.

"I chose a corner in advance and jumped there, I was lucky that I saved it," Popov said in his post-match interview with the MATCH PREMIER. Another goalkeeper who made his debut at the age of 17 and saved a penalty in the first game was Igor Akinfeev. The CSKA captain and Rostov youngster will not cross paths this season, as the teams have already played both matches.

After the match, thousands of fans signed up for Denis on instagram, and one of the many comments was left by Ufa goalkeeper Alexander Belenov: "Colleague, don't worry, you played well! All the best is ahead, but there is a lot of work to do. Good luck and no injuries."

Popov's number of saves also impressed his Sochi rivals, and the MATCH PREMIER expert chose the goalkeeper as the best player of the match. 

The debutant was also pleased with himself: "I just prepared for the game, tried, worked, and God rewarded me. I got this [Man of the Match] award. I try to forget the conceded goals quickly in order to recover and continue playing as I did in the beginning. That's why everything worked out for me, I'm happy with my game. We have gained a lot of experience; we played with such players, I thank them very much for this match. I hope we will improve everything and play even better."

The story was published for the first time on 20 June after FC Sochi vs FC Rostov match


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