The big games are coming thick and fast for FC Spartak Moskva striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who will be looking to put defeat against Celtic FC in the UEFA Champions League behind with victory against Premier-Liga title rivals PFC CSKA Moskva on Sunday. The 25-year-old has been in brilliant form since returning from injury at the start of the season and has scored ten times in the past eight games, including one in each match against Celtic and another for Russia in their recent friendly against Poland. Pavlyuchenko's goals have Spartak fans dreaming of a first title since 2001 and will give England manager Steve McClaren cause for concern ahead of the UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifier between the two sides on 12 September.
uefa.com: Spartak had enough chances to defeat Celtic and almost clinch a place in the group stage in the first leg...
Pavlyuchenko: Indeed so. We had so many chances but couldn't score. We should have punished the Scots at least four times. It was unlucky, what can you say. If we had gone ahead on ten minutes like we should have [when Pavlyuchenko missed a penalty] the game would have been different. Celtic would have had to open up and we would have had chances on the counter. But instead they sat back for the whole match and we had to try and unlock their defence. I was very disappointed.
uefa.com: What happened in the second leg in Glasgow?
Pavlyuchenko: We should have solved the problem of getting into Champions League in the first leg but it did not seem impossible in Glasgow. It was all in our hands and the game just proved that. Unfortunately we did not take our chances and the first mistake in defence ended up in a goal. I did missed a penalty when the score was 0-0. We handed the victory to Celtic.
uefa.com: How important is the upcoming derby with CSKA?
Pavlyuchenko: The league situation is very complicated. One or two matchdays can turn everything upside down even though we have a slight advantage in points. Most of the hopefuls still have to play each other, so the main struggle is still ahead and our match against CSKA will not be decisive. Still, only a victory will do. After two setbacks in the last week [losing to FC Rubin Kazan then Celtic] our motivation has increased and I am sure we will beat CSKA now.
uefa.com: How big a blow was the knee injury at the start of the campaign?
Pavlyuchenko: I really was in good form. It took me ages to get there, but I lost it all in one minute. We were playing in Novosibirsk. The pitch was like an ice rink, it was freezing, and my knee twisted badly. It was depressing and I thought I would have to be stitched back together from little pieces. Thankfully the recovery went faster than I thought.
uefa.com: Spartak had a number of injuries but still started well. How was that?
Pavlyuchenko: I'm very happy to see the young boys from the reserves get their chances. And it's not just that they're in the starting lineup, they are also playing well. It suggests we have a great new generation coming through.
uefa.com: You're still 25 but you can consider yourself a veteran having already played under the likes Oleg Romantsev, Nevio Scala, Aleksandrs Starkovs, Vladimir Fedotov and now Stanislav Cherchesov. How does that feel?
Pavlyuchenko: I feel young, not like a veteran! By and large, football is all the same. I can't say that, for example, Scala came and gave us something out of this world. One person focuses on discipline, someone else focuses on other aspects. Fedotov and Romantsev worked together for a very long time and their way of training is similar.
uefa.com: People talk of a Spartak style. What is it?
Pavlyuchenko: The Spartak style to me is first of all a winning mentality.
Spartak, even during the hardest times on the pitch, even when losing, always fight until the very last minute and often win because of this willpower. Look at our matches this season, we have often come from behind to win in the last minute.
uefa.com: You scored 21 goals in all competitions last year and you have eleven already this term. How do you rate your progress compared to last year?
Pavlyuchenko: It's hard to say. I planned a lot of things before the start of the championship started and then got injured. Now I understood that the most important thing is to be healthy - the goals will come on their own. It may sound trivial, but the most important thing is that the team wins rather any individual scoring.
uefa.com: Is there a favourite goal you've scored for Spartak?
Pavlyuchenko: The one [against FC Slovan Liberec] that took Spartak to the Champions League last year. It is the most important goal I have ever scored.
uefa.com: You look like you have played with your new strike partner Welliton your whole life...
Pavlyuchenko: Welliton is a very good player and is very keen to do well in every training session. The most important thing is that he's not greedy. He gives and I score or I pass, he scores - either way is fine by me.
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