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Russia's UEFA EURO 2012 campaign kicks off against the Czech Republic on Friday and, for team captain Andrey Arshavin, the Group A encounter in Wroclaw is certain to be a special occasion. Proud to be wearing the armband, the 31-year-old forward is also set for a reunion with Arsenal FC colleague and Czech counterpart Tomáš Rosický, having spent the second half of the 2011/12 season on loan at FC Zenit St Petersburg.
That switch brought Arshavin a Russian Premier League winners' medal, and he feels that the understanding between the numerous Zenit players in Russia's ranks is sure to serve them well. Nevertheless, he remains concerned by the team's enigmatic character, telling UEFA.com: "We can lose against every team and we can win against every team."
UEFA.com: What does it mean to you to be captaining your country in a major tournament for the first time?
Andrey Arshavin: To be a captain of any team is a big honour. It's a big responsibility, but on the other hand it also brings positive emotions.
UEFA.com: What expectations does the squad have for UEFA EURO 2012? How do they compare with your expectations four years ago in Austria and Switzerland?
Arshavin: Our expectations are different because last time we didn't expect anything of ourselves. We just went there to show Europe, and even the world, that football can be played in Russia. However, we are also going to play football and show what we can do. We can achieve a positive result now because we've been playing with each other for a long time, and sometimes we play good football and get good results.
UEFA.com: Do you think it was better when no one knew about you and it was easier to cause a surprise, or is it better when people know and respect you?
Arshavin: I think it's better when you are not known; there is an element of unpredictability for an opponent and a certain underestimation. But
if we're now respected in Europe, it’s because we have earned it ourselves, with our play. So, that's just how it is and there is nothing frightening about it.
UEFA.com: Many people see Russia as a dark horse. Would you agree with that, or do you consider Russia to be one of the favourites?
Arshavin: On the one hand, I think that our players are well known to everyone as we have been playing together a long time. I think that, on the playing side, everyone also knows what to expect from us. To put it simply, what lies in the Russian character, and why someone might consider us a dark horse, is that we can lose against every team and we can win against every team.
UEFA.com: How do you mean?
It's in the character of the Russian people that, when we gather our strength in our fist and we don't have anywhere to retreat to, we can win against any team. But if we relax a bit and follow our feelings, we can lose to a very weak team. For a foreigner, it is difficult to understand; you need to live for some time in our country and only then you will understand it.
UEFA.com: Your opening match against the Czech Republic is fast approaching. What do you make of their team?
Arshavin: I have never seen this team or how they play football, though naturally I've known all the players who currently play for them for a long time. In my personal opinion, they're a team that plays defensively and on the counterattack. They attack through [Jaroslav] Plašil and [Tomáš] Rosický and in defence they are not bad; they have a strong defence. Plus, their goalkeeper is Petr Čech, who is capable of dealing with all the sins of their defence.
UEFA.com: Have you spoken much with your Arsenal colleague Rosický about the game?
Arshavin: Of course, we've joked about this topic. I was saying that on 8 June, we'll both wear No10 on our backs and exchange handshakes there, on the pitch and so on. We were joking about it. However, that will happen. Tomáš is indeed a very strong player and I think that in many national teams he would be a key player. He has a good overall awareness on the pitch; he plays well and is good at passing.
UEFA.com: You will also face Greece and Poland in the group. Are you expecting all three of your opponents to take a defensive approach?
Arshavin: I think they will. The only thing is that the Polish team are said to play a bit differently: they try to attack more. And you have to take into consideration that they will be playing at home and the supporters will want to see them attacking. However, in general, I'd say that all three of the teams we'll be playing are very similar and most likely will be playing against Russia from the back. Of course, it's understood that every national team has its own pluses, because the Greeks are an excellent team at set pieces, the Czechs can are very powerful, and the Polish have a very big plus in that they're playing at home and have a couple of good players who play for Borussia Dortmund; they're top players now.
UEFA.com: What are Russia's own strengths and weaknesses?
Arshavin: I think that our team lacks too much speed to be considered a favourite during this tournament. But we're also skilful and have been playing together for a long time. Also, most of the players have been playing together for Zenit, which means we can understand and help each other. On the pitch, we know each other's movements, and that has to be of benefit to us.
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