The goalkeeping heroine of Russia's 2005 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship penalty shoot-out final defeat of France, Elvira Todua is now preparing to open UEFA Women's EURO 2013 against the same nation, though is currently recovering from a shoulder injury.
Russia, who also face England and Spain in Group C from 12 July, have never made it past the group stage despite having qualified for three of the last four final tournaments. Yet with a squad dominated by Todua's fellow U19 team-mates, and now under the family atmosphere fostered by coach Sergey Lavrentiev, she is hopeful of doing better in Sweden.
UEFA.com: What does playing in a final tournament mean to you?
Elvira Todua: I'm a player who's been through all football storms and hurricanes, you may say. We had very difficult opponents, Austria, we had two very hard play-off matches. That is why we're very happy. We wanted to get there, and we've got there; as they said, with a bit of luck, but you have to be the strongest to be lucky.
This championship is not exactly fundamental, not the last chance, but a chance for the young ones who won the Women's U19 Championship in 2005, because right now the backbone of that team is in the A national side.
They have a chance in this European Championship, because later on younger players, and age, will be putting pressure on them. There's desire to show and prove at international level, firstly to ourselves, and to other countries, that Russia are no zero either.
UEFA.com: How important is that spine of 2005 U19 winners?
Todua: In fact, it all results in a more or less clear picture, and you know that doesn't just happen [by itself]. There are seven or eight of us – I haven't counted, but it's around that number, and I guess we've been playing together since about 2003. You understand what it is, it's understanding, relationships. Everybody knows each other's good and bad habits, likes, lifestyle and attitudes.
UEFA.com: The opponents you met then – France, Germany, England – now, like Russia, have a lot of players who played in that competition.
Todua: With Germany we didn't really think about it. They are constantly changing, because they have very strong competition, a high percentage of girls playing football. With France you could see, and we had the feeling that those girls like [Louisa] Necib, Sarah Bouhaddi, Élodie Thomis were outstanding. The national team just couldn't ignore them. Like in our team, but in our team there's a different reason: we have a lack of competition, and that's why there was a smooth transition to the national team. They couldn't ignore our talents and they noticed and took us in time. And here you have your world stars.
UEFA.com: In 2009 Russia went out in the group stage. What experience did it give you?
Todua: Those who were present, playing or not, realised and learnt that there are no outsiders in the European Championship, there are no weak or strong opponents. They are the top 12 and when you play a game you have to do your best. Unfortunately, it didn't work out then for various reasons.
UEFA.com: How have the team developed since?
Todua: As a national team player I can say that it has changed, but it's hard to tell you about it all now. A lot of coaches have been replaced. Among them were Vera Pauw, Farid Benstiti, before him Igor Shalimov, and now Sergey Lavrentiev. I can say that my impression is that coach Lavrentiev is imparting to us a type of football that Russia can and will play.
UEFA.com: How would you characterise Lavrentiev?
Todua: You know, however funny it may sound, he's kind and understanding, but, at the same time, he's got a carrot and stick policy, you might say. I like that. He understands us, understands football, and understands what we want. And we understand what he wants. In fact, traditionally a team is like a family and he's like a good father who knows the rules of normal upbringing and football.
UEFA.com: Who are the favourites in Sweden?
Todua: For a long time the favourites have tended to be Germany, France, the big teams that participate in World Cups and Olympic Games. We're probably in one of the strongest groups. But, again, I say that after getting to the last 12 you cannot say if your group is weak or strong. Take us, for example, you can't say that we are new here – we've participated before.
But it doesn't matter for us if it's France or Germany. Maybe it'll be more or less easy to play against France than Germany, because, once again, we're not playing physical football. It's harder for us to play against physical football and it's easier for us to play against technical teams.
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