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When the 16-year-old Elena Danilova struck for Russia in the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-final against Germany, she seemed set to become one of the biggest talents in the game.
Over the following three seasons Danilova enhanced her already burgeoning reputation still further by setting goalscoring records in the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, which her side won in 2005. However, torn cruciate knee ligaments suffered in 2007 kept her out of the international setup until this July, returning in time for UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™. "I had two operations, the last one in 2008," she told uefa.com. "It was difficult for me to recover. It was hard mentally. I do not have enough match practice. I am trying to find my best form, but I am only 70 per cent ready."
Russia could require Danilova's goalscoring prowess in their must-win encounter with Italy on Monday. After losing 3-0 to Sweden and 3-2 to England – a game in which Danilova was withdrawn just before the break after a two-goal lead swiftly became a deficit – Russia must defeat the Azzurre to have any chance of advancing to the quarter-finals from Group C. The 22-year-old striker is aware things have not been going to plan. "In our first game against Sweden we were very nervous but in our next match we had some misunderstandings," she said. "We sat too deep in defence − we left big gaps between the lines."
Danilova returned to WFC Rossiyanka this year after a spell in the United States with FC Indiana and showed good form in the recent UEFA Women's Champions League qualifiers. Although she started against England, she suspects she would be more effective coming off the bench. "Right now I am not at my best," she said. "The coach made the right decision not to put me in the starting ХI. I will bring more benefit if I play 20 to 30 minutes. It is better than just to barely move on the pitch throughout the whole 90 minutes but, still, I am ready to start."
However, morale has been hit by the two defeats. "We have lost two games and feelings are not so good," she said. "We are a little bit upset." Nevertheless, Danilova does believe they have already faced their toughest challenge of the section. "I think that the strongest team in our group are Sweden. They are a very experienced and disciplined team. Germany and Sweden stand out at this tournament."
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