In 2006 Russia qualified for their first UEFA European Under-17 Championship after winning an elite round group in England – and went on to lift the trophy in Luxembourg.
Since then they have waited seven years to reach the finals again but did it last month, once more after an elite round group in England where they pipped the hosts and Portugal in a three-way tie-breaker. Having been in their Austrian training camp since last Wednesday – as they prepare to face Ukraine, Croatia and Italy in Group B in Slovakia from Sunday – coach Dmitri Khomukha spoke to UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: After the elite round you said your players were "not in the best physical shape as they have just started their season's preparations". How are they now?
Dmitri Khomukha: The majority of our players represent Moscow clubs and the Moscow championship has already started, two rounds have been played. Moreover, all the lads have completed pre-season. So we hope they will be in much better shape in Slovakia than in the elite round in March.
UEFA.com: You will play Ukraine, Croatia and Italy. How would you describe them?
Khomukha: Ukraine are the ones we know best. We played them a year ago in the Bannikov memorial competition and lost 4-3 on penalties. We also met them this January in Minsk and beat them 1-0. They are disciplined and well organised opponents. As for Croatia, they have qualified from a difficult group after beating Spain and France. I can say the same about Italy, who defeated the Netherlands in the elite round.
UEFA.com: Third place in the group will mean a debut in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Would you be happy with such an outcome?
Khomukha: This is one of our goals. World Cup matches will help our players to improve, especially taking into account that there will be teams from different regions like South America, Africa and Asia. We would gain colossal experience.
UEFA.com: Do you think Russia are able to win the tournament?
Khomukha: Considering our previous matches I can tell you that there are no opponents we can't compete against. That's why we are aiming for the highest possible goal at the tournament.
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