The UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Israel may have been disappointing for Russia but with four of their squad still eligible for 2015, there is hope for the future.
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In their first Under-21 final tournament for 15 years, Russia lost all three Group B games against Spain (0-1), the Netherlands (1-5) and Germany (1-2). However, there was no wallowing in self-pity, merely an acknowledgement that Nikolai Pisarev's team put up a good fight but ultimately come up short – with a little more luck, who knows how things might have panned out?
For the majority of those involved in Israel, Wednesday's defeat against Germany was their last at U21 level. However, there are four of the squad – Andrei Panyukov, Roman Emelyanov, Sergei Bryzgalov and Aleksei Nikitin – who will still be eligible to take part in the Czech Republic in 2015. They spoke to UEFA.com about their experiences over the past week or so.
"First and foremost, the tournament has given us motivation to play here again," said Nikitin, captain for the 2015 campaign. "It is a great atmosphere here on and off the pitch. We needed this competition to get a taste for it." Panyukov, still only 18, added: "I'm the youngest in this team, the majority of the lads are four or five years older. I've gained great experience. It has been a pleasure to be here and I have more confidence now."
Russia beat the likes of Portugal and the Czech Republic during qualifying but have failed to match those standards over the past eight days. "If everybody in the team played for their clubs things would have turned out differently," said Bryzgalov. Nikitin added: "We should look deeper. For me, as a defender I wish I had worked more on heading, tackling and one-on-one situations. In general, I have worked on the tactical and physical side of things."
Nikitin, nicknamed 'Grandfather' because of his intelligence and qualities as a leader, continued: "After Spanish players graduate from their academies they are fully-formed personalities. Many of our players go to a different team and disappear. Another problem is the conditions as we do not have good weather and the appropriate infrastructure. Our ability to compete is thanks to the Russian character. This is our only advantage in football."
The 2015 crop have already started their qualifying campaign with a 3-0 win against Andorra and Panyukov added: "We played in the Commonwealth Cup in January. We didn't work as a team in the first match but played better with every game and won the tournament. After that we beat Andorra 3-0. I think we have the ability to qualify again and go to Czech Republic in 2015."