SAMARA, Russia (Reuters) - Dimitri Strazhkov dreams about becoming a professional player with CSKA Moscow and one day being called up to play for Russia’s national team.
The 15 year-old and other boys of all ages train every day at a small soccer field in the village of Aleksandrovka that was built only five years ago as a present from the town of Samara.
Located in the heart of a village with about 1,500 inhabitants, and under the watchful eye of a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin, it serves the community as both an outlet for the teenagers to express themselves and as a meeting place for residents old and young.
For the kids in the village, the soccer field is at the center of many of their close-knit relationships.
“We call each other, we text on social media and knock on each other’s door. Then we agree on a time to come to the soccer field,” Strazhkov told Reuters on Saturday.
On the field, the players try to emulate the skills of their heroes on television.
The host nation’s early success in the tournament has only amplified the status of popular players such as Aleksandr Golovin or Igor Akinfeev. But the foreign talents on display, including those of Russia’s next opponents Spain, have also inspired the children of Aleksandrovka.
“My favorite foreign players are Zlatan Ibrahimovic, because he is very technical and powerful, and Spain’s Fernando Torres, but as he is very, very old, I prefer Sergio Ramos,” said Dimitri Maklakov.
Despite wearing a Spain T-shirt, Maklakov was certain Russia would win when the two sides met in the last 16 on Sunday.
Dimitri Terentyev, whose son Denis is a regular on the village pitch, says soccer runs in the blood.
“His grandfather, his four brothers and my brother and I as well played football, and now Denis does as well,” he said.
“And I hope my youngest will soon be playing as well.”
Yet for some, the World Cup is the very first time some villagers have encountered soccer.
Pensioner Irina Aleekseva, who lives alone in an old wooden house, says she has been reading soccer magazines and watching the news to learn about the game and engage with her grandchildren who visit her at the weekend to help run her farm.
“My grandchildren motivate me as they ask questions all the time, and they support the team and ask me to watch the matches with them,” she says as the family gather to watch France play Argentina on the television.
“I should be a modern grandmother and know who the stars like Ronaldo or Messi are.”
For a photo essay, click on reut.rs/2NfvXT1
Reporting by Elena Gyldenkerne; Writing by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Hugh Lawson