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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Russia's new face
Aleksandr Mostovoi in action for Russia
Aleksandr Mostovoi will partner Ismailov in midfield

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It is hard to imagine the Russian team without Marat Ismailov.

He is a true footballing genius who made an immediate impression on the sport.

Some of the best sides in Europe are trailing the Lokomotiv Moscow player, and a price tag of 10m is sure to rise with a good showing at the World Cup.

During one year he managed to do what other footballers dream about achieving throughout their whole career.

In the past 12 months he has become a regular for Loko and last autumn added international honours to his burgeoning reputation with a first cap.

Marat Ismailov
Newcastle have shown interest in Ismailov
At the end of last season, when the Russian football world was shortlisting candidates for the national awards, Ismailov got three nominations.

Best attacking midfielder, hope of the season and most valuable player. The 19-year-old won the lot.

It was the first time in Russian football history that one player had manged the feat and in winning the awards he beat off experienced campaigners such as Ruslan Nigmatullin, Yegor Titov and Rolan Gusev.

Ismailov started playing football at the age of three.

Within two years he was training with Lokomotiv juniors, but soon left for Torpedo.

In 2001 he retraced the journey across the city after unexpectedly being offered a contact by Lokomotiv.

It was clear to all that Ismailov was a skillful and determined athlete.

He has incredible tactical sense, stunning ball control and the ability to make fast decisions on the pitch. They are invariably the correct ones.

One fall back is that he does not score many goals, but he makes up for it by providing his team-mates with numerous opportunities.

In modern football a lot of things depend on physical strength, but Ismailov is much stronger in other fields.

Open Quote
We have a very good team, but we still have time and capability to improve
Close Quote
Marat Ismailov
He is able to think on the pitch, which makes him one of the best midfielders in Eastern Europe.

"In football, the head is more important than the legs," he says.

Ismailov still plays football with his local mates and does not look at himself as the star.

He uses the underground to get to the stadium, nobody knows his face and he dreams of playing in the Italian Serie A.

"We have a very good team, but we still have time and capability to improve," he says of the national team.

"We will succeed and, by the beginning of the World Cup, Russia will have become much stronger."

His first year gave him the ticket to professional football and he made a great impression in the first group stage of the Champions League.

Now he has to prove that he really deserves it.

If he does, he will not remain unrecognisable for much longer.

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GROUP H
  P GD PTS
JAPAN 3 +3 7
BELGIUM 3 +1 5
RUSSIA 3 0 3
TUNISIA 3 -4 1

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