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In his debut game, Molokoedov scored two goals against top division team C.D. Palestino.

“He’s proving that you can make mistakes, but if life gives you another chance, you have to take it. And if it is through soccer, which is what he loves, then even better yet,” said Santiago Morning Coach Hernan Ibarra.

The coach praised Molokoedov’s control of the ball, his ability to show up unexpectedly behind players and, most of all, his speed. He compares Molokoedov to Luis Figo, the Portuguese right-wing midfielder who was FIFA’s player of the year in 2001 and who played for Spanish rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, don’t forget that this kid has only been with us for a couple weeks,” Ibarra said. “But I see some positive physical and technical conditions … He’s an important player for any team in Chile and I have no doubt that he has everything he needs to become a professional player.”

During a recent practice session, a cross shot curled from the back and Molokoedov stopped the ball midfield using the inside of his right foot. Looking up to make a pass, he danced with the ball almost on tiptoes, recalling a member of the Bolshoi Ballet, before soccer reality set in and Molokoedov was taken down with a rough sliding tackle.

Nearing noon in the field at Quilicura, which means colorful rock in the language of the Mapuche Indians, it was time to return to the other rock, the grey one where he sleeps. Molokoedov stepped into a car flanked by the prison’s coach and a burly guard and looked out the window, again at the chickens and the cows.

Molokoedov could have returned to Russia this month. An amnesty law recently took effect to free up overcrowded prisons by sending prisoners to their home countries on the condition they don’t return to Chile for at least a decade.

Molokoedov chose to stay and play soccer for the Santiago Morning, which on Tuesday announced his official transfer from FK Pskov 747 had cleared, allowing him to play in tournaments in Chile. The club has declined to say how much he is paid.

“My life is here and I want to do things well,” he said.

Thirty minutes later, Molokoedov was back at the concrete fortress walls. A woman waiting in the line outside the prison recognized him, asked someone to take a picture of them with her cellphone, then kissed him on the check.

Molokoedov flushed and paced to the iron prison gate, where he raised his arms to be checked for weapons, passing an X-ray scanner decorated with a big silver soccer trophy on top.

Cleared, Molokoedov was back behind bars. But he knew he would be able to live out his soccer dreams far from the prison walls again tomorrow, out there, in the grassy field.


Luis Andres Henao is on Twitter: