Russia's seven-goal top scorer in UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying, Natalia Shlyapina is relishing her first taste of a final tournament.
Shlyapina – who turns 30 on 13 July, the day after her team's opening match against France in Norrkoping – helped Russia to the 2009 finals under her previous name of Natalia Mokshanova but did not go to Finland.
Yet there was little doubt she would make Sergei Lavrentyev's squad this time and she talks about how the coach has helped the team since taking over just before their play-off against Austria, the importance of being fearless and how she hopes to be a role model.
UEFA.com: What does this competition mean to you?
Natalia Shlyapina: No doubt, it's a very important event for me because in my 30-year life I have never taken part in a European Championship or a World Cup. Previously I was into futsal and I came to football to participate in these kind of competitions. That is why it's the greatest event.
UEFA.com: During qualifying Russia changed coach – what was the effect of that?
Shlyapina: The appointment of the new coach influenced the team very well. He became our leader before the play-offs against Austria. He had about a week and a half before the match to find a common language and establish communication with the team; he managed to do that very well. Now there are no problems.
Now people want to be a part of the national team because the system has been brought into order, and you can see that a person is getting trained and there's one system of training.
UEFA.com: What do you think of your Group C opponents?
Shlyapina: We played a friendly against France last summer – we lost 3-0. It'll be very hard for us against France because they're a really good team. We must fight against England and probably we'll be on the same level. And we must beat Spain, despite the fact we lost to them in a friendly. We can cope with them, though.
UEFA.com: Talking about your experience, and you have quite a lot of it, how might it help you in the finals of the European Championship?
Shlyapina: Probably, psychologically. You get some kind of confidence against any opponent. You go there ready and fearless. Maybe it's my subjective opinion, but the main problem in women's football is psychology.
If a player goes out in an unready state, or with some shade of fear, it means she's not playing, she's out of the game on the pitch. And it's hard. And if there are two of three players like that in an XI, then the team's not really playing, because after all football is a team sport. And the more important games you play against good opponents, the higher the confidence becomes and there's no difference who you play against.
UEFA.com: How did you got into football?
Shlyapina: I still remember that. In school, in the second grade, a PE teacher noticed my speed – I was always playing and running with boys. And she knew a football coach, this was in 1992. In Russia, women's football was nonsense then, no one had heard of it. And she invited him to a lesson, to meet me. He came to a lesson, we talked, and he invited me. 'Come with your parents tomorrow, you can see and try training. If you like it you'll be into training,' he said. So I went there and never left.
UEFA.com: How important is it for Russian women's football, for young girls who are beginners, to have role models?
Shlyapina: Of course, it's very important. Now they've started showing women's football on TV. Well, at least they show the national team. Girls sitting in front of the TV watching it want to be there, too. And they see what to do and how to do it. They start striving for something, they get the desire to achieve a goal.
I remember that when I had just started playing big football. In futsal I wasn't interested much in these things, didn't know much, but when I got into football I watched the older generation. In Russian football there were leaders like [Natalia] Barbashina, [Olga] Letyushova and [Tatiana] Egorova. We were trying to be like them. We were striving to take their places in time. That is why it's very important to have icons.
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