FIFA World Cup countdown: Top 10 Russian footballers of all time

As part of the countdown to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole takes a look at the top 10 players in the history of Russian football.

Prior to its break up, the Soviet Union were regarded to be a force within world football. In four of the seven World Cups that they qualified for between 1958 and 1990, The Red Army reached the quarter-finals or better.

What's more, they reached the final of the European Championships four times, although they only triumphed on one occasion in 1960 thanks to a victory over Yugoslavia.

Since 1992, Russia have struggled to replicate that form at major tournaments. They have qualified for two World Cups and four European Championships, but have only progressed beyond the group stages once. Yet, with what appears to be a favourable group in Brazil, there is hope that they can make an impact this time around.

Here, to continue our countdown to the 2014 tournament, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Russian football.

10. Roman Pavlyuchenko (2003-2013, 51 caps, 21 goals)

Roman Pavlyuchenko celebrates scoring for Russia against England on October 17, 2007.© Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur supporters may have mixed opinions as far as the centre-forward is concerned, but in terms of his contribution at international level, he shouldn't be overlooked.

The 32-year-old made a name for himself when he scored both of his nation's goals in a Euro 2008 qualifying victory over England in Moscow. Then, at the tournament itself, he scored three times to help the Russians reach the semi-finals. Overall, only two players have found the net on more occasions for Russia than Pavlyuchenko.

It was his form at that tournament that convinced Spurs to part with almost £14m to secure his services. He was never prolific, though, and eventually returned to his homeland in 2012 with Lokomotiv Moscow, where he still remains.

9. Igor Akinfeev (2004-present, 66 caps, no goals)

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev punches clear the danger against Sweden on June 18, 2008.© Getty Images

Having spent his entire career with CSKA Moscow, there is not much that Akinfeev hasn't won. The goalkeeper has lifted the Russian Premier League title on five occasions, as well as the Russian Cup a further six times.

Perhaps most impressively, though, is the fact that at the age of 19, he kept goal for CSKA in 2005 as they defeated Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon in their own ground to win the UEFA Cup.

His potential was also recognised early on as far as international football is concerned. He made his debut in 2004 at the age of 18 years and 20 days, making him the third-youngest player to represent Russia. Since becoming the number one goalkeeper a year later, only injuries have prevented him from representing his country.

8. Valeri Karpin (1992-2003, 72 caps, 17 goals)

Midfielder Valeri Karpin in action for Russia at the World Cup on June 14, 2002.© Getty Images

The 45-year-old will forever be remembered by fans of the Russian national team, largely because he scored their first ever goal following the breakup of the Soviet Union. His landmark strike came during a 2-0 victory over Mexico in August 1992.

The energetic midfielder would go on to represent Russia at three major tournaments, including two World Cups, although he couldn't inspire them out of the group stages.

At club level, Karpin won two titles with Spartak Moscow, before he moved to Spain. He had two separate spells with Real Sociedad, as well as turning out for Valencia and Celta Vigo. Since retiring, Karpin has had two stints in charge of Spartak, the latter of which came to an end in March of this year.

7. Eduard Streltsov (1955-1968, 38 caps, 25 goals)

It would be fair to say that Streltsov's career was a controversial one. In 1958, he was accused of rape and told by the authorities that if he confessed to the crime, he would keep his place in the Soviet Union squad for the upcoming World Cup. Despite the fact that it was widely reported that the serious offence had been committed by someone else, Streltsov is said to have seen no alternative and pleaded guilty.

However, rather than remain free, he was sentenced to 12 years in a forced labour camp, where he was so badly beaten at one stage that he spent a number of months in hospital. He was eventually released five years into his sentence.

On the pitch, the late Streltsov is the Soviet Union's fourth leading goalscorer of all time. He was named his nations' Player of the Year on two occasions, thanks in part to the role that he played in helping them to win gold at the 1956 Olympic Games in Australia.

6. Albert Shesternyov (1961-1971, 90 caps, no goals)

Captain in 62 of his 90 outings for the Soviet Union, many regard Shesternyov to be one of the best defenders to have pulled on a red jersey.

While the nation never won a trophy during his 10-year tenure on the international scene, his performances saw him named in UEFA's Team of the Tournament in both the 1964 and 1968 European Championships.

A hero among the CSKA Moscow faithful, the 1970 Soviet Union Footballer of the Year sprung a surprise in 1972 when he called time on his career at the age of 30, having guided his club to their first Russian league title in 19 years.

5. Igor Netto (1952-1965, 54 caps, four goals)

It's widely accepted that the majority of footballers will do anything to gain advantage, but there is a heartening tale that shows that Netto was an exception to the rule. In a 1962 World Cup match against Uruguay, the Soviet Union were awarded a goal, despite the fact that the ball had gone through the side-netting. Rather than accept it, Netto convinced the referee to change his mind, keeping the score at one goal apiece.

Although not a prolific scorer of goals for his country from midfield, Netto was a prominent figure as the Soviet Union won an Olympic gold medal in 1956 and then the European Championships four years later.

Like many of his international colleagues of the time, Netto was a one-club man, turning out for Spartak Moscow, whom he also represented at ice hockey. Among the late Netto's honours are five Soviet Championships and three Soviet Cups.

4. Andrey Arshavin (2002-2012, 75 caps, 17 goals)

Russian striker Andrey Arshavin celebrates scoring against Holland on June 21, 2008.© Getty Images

He may have failed to live up to expectations at Arsenal, who shelled out what was at the time a club-record fee of £15m to take the attacker to England from Zenit St Petersburg, but there was the odd high point during his time in the Premier League.

The pint-sized 32-year-old made the biggest impression in April 2009 when he scored all four of the North Londoner's goals in a 4-4 draw with Liverpool at Anfield. In doing so, Arshavin became the first player in English football to score four goals away from home since 1946.

Like Pavlyuchenko, it was his showings at Euro 2008 that alerted the world to his talent. Despite missing the first two matches through suspension, Arshavin returned to the starting lineup to score against Sweden and then Holland in the quarter-finals.

3. Rinat Dasayev (1979-1990, 91 caps, no goals)

Soviet Union goalkeeper Rinat Dasayev poses for photographs at the World Cup on June 15, 1986.© Getty Images

In Russia, Dasayev is considered to be only second to his compatriot Lev Yashin when it comes to being football's best ever goalkeeper.

It is a view that is seemingly shared by Brazilian legend Pele, who named the 56-year-old on his list of the 125 greatest living footballers in 2004.

Having spent the majority of his club career with Spartak Moscow, Dasayev kept goal for two Soviet Championship-winning sides. Meanwhile, where international football is concerned, he helped the Soviet Union to reach the final of the 1988 European Championships, during which he was powerless to stop Marco van Basten's memorable volley from an acute angle.

2. Valentin Ivanov (1955-1965, 60 caps, 26 goals)

There are not many footballers that have been a leading goalscorer at both a World Cup and a European Championships, but it's a feat that Ivanov did achieve. His goals fired the Soviet Union to the Euro 1960 title, while he also added a further four goals at the 1962 World Cup.

Admirably Ivanov spent his entire playing career with Torpedo Moscow, although trophy successes were few and far between.

Sadly, in 2011, the attacker, who's son Valentin became a professional referee, passed away a few days short of his 77th birthday following a battle with Alzheimer's disease.

1. Lev Yashin (1954-1970, 78 caps, no goals)

Soviet Union goalkeeper Lev Yashin punches clear against England on June 98, 1958.© Getty Images

Such is the impact that Yashin had on the game, the World Cup award for the tournament's best goalkeeper is named after him. He was also named in the World Cup's All-Star Team of all time and the FIFA Dream Team.

Arguably his finest accolade, though, was winning the Ballon d'Or in 1963. To this day, Yashin remains the only goalkeeper to have won the award.

He spent the whole of his career between the posts for Dynamo Moscow, whom he helped to five Soviet Top League titles and three Soviet Cups. For good measure, Yashin, who died of stomach cancer in 1990, helped the club's ice hockey team to win the Soviet Cup in 1953.

Russia will face Belgium, Algeria and South Korea in the group stages of this summer's World Cup, and you can follow every match live with Sports Mole.

Continuing our 50-day countdown to the tournament, we will be looking at the greatest players in South Korea's history tomorrow. You can also see all of the World Cup top 10 lists so far by clicking here.

Who is the greatest Russian footballer of all time?

Lev Yashin
Valentin Ivanov
Rinat Dasayev
Andrey Arshavin
Igor Netto
Albert Shesternyov
Eduard Streltsov
Valeri Karpin
Igor Akinfeev
Roman Pavlyuchenko
Lev Yashin
Valentin Ivanov
Rinat Dasayev
Andrey Arshavin
Igor Netto
Albert Shesternyov
Eduard Streltsov
Valeri Karpin
Igor Akinfeev
Roman Pavlyuchenko
England's David Beckham celebrates scoring against Mexico on May 25, 2001.
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Top 10 English footballers of all time
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