— After the Villarreal game in the Europa League you said the draw felt like a loss. How would you sum up the 0:0 in Glasgow?
— You are right to say there’s a big difference between those draws. We faced Villarreal at home, went ahead and then conceded at the last minute… That hurt. With regards to Rangers, we knew from the outset it won’t be easy. That’s because we played they away, at the legendary Ibrox, which was sold out and filled with home supporters. We understood the supporters would egg the team on, so I think the draw in Glasgow was a decent result.
— Sergei Eremenko met up with a friend of his in Scotland, who plays for the Rangers’ U21s. Do you have friends of your own in Scotland?
— The only person I know from Rangers is Steven Gerrard, the head coach — he’s a legend. He was one of my role models back when he was a player.
— What was it like to face his team?
— I knew that Scotland is entrenched in football, but it’s one thing to hear about it and completely different to see it with your own eyes. It was my first time there, but I think it’s an honour for any footballer to play at such a legendary stadium with a long history of success, and to do so with filled-out stands. The atmosphere was fantastic. The one thing that surprised me was all the furnishings inside Ibrox were made of wood — that stood out. After the World Cup in Russia we kind of got used to the modern stadiums. In Scotland you can still see this preserved historic atmosphere, one which conveys the clubs’ values, traditions. The game was a good one too.
— Spartak has something in Moscow to offer too.
— Of course. Speaking of the reverse leg, I think we’ll put up a good fight. We’ll play at our stadium, with the home support. There’s no room for error though. We made our won bed and now we have to lie in it. Now, to put this right, we need to win the remaining home fixtures in the Europa league whatever it takes. And then we have to be up for it for the game in Spain.
— The 18-year-old Ignatov said after the Rangers game he can’t last the whole 90 yet. Do you help youngsters settle in?
— Everyone needs a bit of time, it’s hard to hit the ground running when you are young. I can understand our youngsters perfectly well. I faced a similar issue back in my time: you are young, but a lot’s asked of you already, you play in big matches. It’s normal to be inconsistent at this stage. At the same time the senior players know it wasn’t a coincidence when young players make the team. That they are indeed capable and talented individuals. We do everything in our power to help them. I think our youngsters showcase their best qualities.
— Your own debut for Gremio came when you were 17...
— That was a big moment for me. When I was young, I watched Gremio players and thought: “Maybe I’ll join them at some point”. And then my breakthrough happened. First training session with the main squad, first senior game… My dream came true! I will remember those feelings for the rest of my life.
— You have always been good at set-pieces. This season set-pieces play a large part in getting the results...
— I think that’s down to how teams play against us: most of them play defense first. They play a conservative game. They know we are good in attack and so they almost always play with a deep and structured defense, which is hard to break down. End-to-end football is a rarity now, so set-pieces play a big part. That explains the number of goals scored following corners and free-kicks.
— How are feeling fitness-wise? After the Rangers game the medical staff said you’ll be out for up to two weeks...
— I’m feeling much better. Hope I’ll be available for selection for this game. I would like to face Rangers again. Not just them, mind: I want to play, to help the team.
— You’ve said recently Spartak can win the league this season. How would you rate the chances to win the Europa League?
— My opinion on our league chances hasn’t changed. Even if we are merely mathematical, we’ll still fight until the last match. Do you remember how last season went? Zenit were top by a margin and then Lokomotiv won the league. There’s nothing impossible in football. That’s true for any competition: league, Europa League. We need to get the points in the last two home group stage games and then we have a chance to make the knockouts.
— The team is in a tough spot right now...
— It’s probably the most challenging period since I joined. In all honest this current period will test our resolve. It’s a period when every player has huge responsibility on his shoulders. It’s good to be champions, but the real test of our strength is how we respond now. We need to pull through this.