Four years ago, Russia surprised almost everybody by powering their way through to the UEFA EURO 2008 semi-finals by playing a slick, attacking brand of football. Despite having retained many of the same players since then, however, they are once again attracting little attention as time ticks down on their opening Group A game against the Czech Republic on Friday.
Optimism reigns among Dick Advocaat's players, though, not least since they defeated Italy 3-0 in a warm-up match last Friday, and Igor Semshov considers his side to be opponents "that others should be nervous about coming up against". UEFA.com met up with the experienced midfielder and some of his colleagues at Russia's base of operations in Warsaw to get their take on UEFA EURO 2012.
Igor Semshov, Russia midfielder
I think with every training session and every friendly game our game has got better and better. The coach knows perfectly what we still have to work on and what we can do better, so that we can start the first game in optimal form. The only thing that has changed is that we are more experienced, we have played more. Our team is 85 to 90% the same, so I think we will be even stronger than in 2008. In the last European Championship, we played a bit more modestly, and now we've become faster. Football doesn't stand still; it changes all the time. It's developing and you need to up the tempo, because when you are simply walking you will outrun nobody.
I think there are no favourites [in our group], all the teams are equal and able to give each other a hard time. Let's not forget that Poland are the tournament co-hosts, so there is a lot of attention on them. Greece and the Czech Republic are outsiders who can strike at any given moment, so we have to be alert. And, of course, the first game plays an important role: everything kind of depends on what we encounter then, because how you start is also how you finish.
I don't think of us as outsiders. We played well in the last European Championship and we played well in the qualifiers. We are a team that others should be nervous about coming up against; we came here for good results and to achieve success. We are hungry for victory, for good results.
Roman Shirokov, Russia midfielder
The mood is excellent. There is expectation, but the most important thing is to live up to the expectations. Even now, I think there are many people who don't know about us. We need to get out of the group stage and that could actually play in our favour afterwards.
Marat Izmailov, Russia midfielder
Everything is fine. We had a warm welcome, we have a great hotel, the organisation is excellent and everything is on a very high level. The coach will decide who plays in the team, and I am going to give it my best and show that I am ready to play from the very start.
Sergey Fursenko, president of the Russian Football Union (RFS)
[Poland] is a very pleasant country. We have experienced a very warm welcome since we got here, and I am sure that everything will be fine right up until the end of our stay. We evaluated the quality of our training camp at the beginning of the selection process at the start of the year. This base is very good, the pitch is wonderful and the technical support is admirable.
Not overlooking the win against Italy, our spirit is very good indeed. The atmosphere in the team is wonderful and this is the key to our success. Actually, the atmosphere in the team is completely different from four years ago. No one believed in the team then except for the team itself. And now the expectation from the whole country is quite high. Of course, this is our job. Nevertheless, Dick Advocaat is a highly professional coach. Firstly, he created a sense of hope. He has built the right relationships within the team and we have done our best too. I think that every team thinks only of winning it when they go to a European Championship.
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