The first time Russia won the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in 2006, they did not qualify again for seven years and few of that squad made a senior breakthrough. Having reclaimed the title this May in Slovakia, they are determined that will not happen again.
Just as in 2006, when the Czech Republic were beaten on penalties in Luxembourg, Russia won the title on spot kicks against Italy in Zilina, having come through the semi-finals with an epic 10-9 shoot-out defeat of Sweden. Nikolai Pisarev, sporting director of the Russian Football Union (RFS) as well as Under-21 head coach, is adamant that this triumph should be just the beginning for the 2013 U17 generation.
"For us, it is the second time since 2006 that Russia have achieved such a great success," Pisarev told UEFA.com. "Unfortunately, of the players who played in 2006, very few have become professionals. Of course now our aim is to work to keep the players and prepare them for the national team."
Does Pisarev believe that can be achieved. "The fact is, we are not confident," he admitted. "That is why we are working on changing our system so players can have more playing time with their clubs."
As for the victory itself, accomplished with only one goal conceded in five finals matches, Pisarev is clear how coach Dmitri Khomukha was able to mastermind the Russians' Slovak success. "There is no secret, we have good players and a very good coach," Pisarev said. "There are no 'stars' in this team, we are strong as a unit."
Even so, the headlines were grabbed by captain Anton Mitryushkin who saved three penalties in the climactic shoot-out, something Russia had prepared for. "We won the semi-final and final on penalties," Pisarev said. "From my point of view, you cannot train for penalties. You cannot create that atmosphere and the pressure a player feels during a shoot-out. Sometimes for them it is a real disaster. But we trained the goalkeeper a lot for penalties."
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