Elena Danilova scored freely as Russia won last year's championship in Hungary but tells uefa.com the holders are finding life more difficult this year.
Elena Danilova was the undoubted star of last year's UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship finals, ending with a winners' medal and the top scorer award. She struck again on Tuesday night against France, the team Russia beat to win the competition a year ago, but the penalty was in vain as the 4-1 defeat leaves the holders needing a good result tonight against hosts Switzerland to stay in Group B contention.
Silence speaks volumes
"It was a kind of shock," Danilova told uefa.com. "France are at about the same level as last year, they played a great game and were very disciplined. The coach didn't say anything at all after the game. We all understood perfectly!" Danilova is in her third U19 finals, and is already an experienced senior international, scoring in Russia's 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-final defeat by eventual winners Germany while she was still only 16. But she admits to being worried that matching last year's feat will be difficult.
Not so sure
"Last year I was 100 per cent sure, as a player, that we would be able to reach the final," she said. "This time I am not.
It was much easier last year, there was a wind behind our backs. Now we are the holders, so the responsibility is more heavy," As one of the senior members of the squad, Danilova is aware of her duty to help her younger colleagues. "We are trying to help the newcomers and support them. They are a bit nervous."
This is not Danilova's last youth international tournament of the season, as she and several team-mates in Switzerland will feature when Russia host the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup next month. And with club games for FC Spartak Moskva thrown in, it is a hectic time for Danilova. "The World Cup is the main tournament we are preparing for," she said. "Because we are hosting it everyone will be looking at us. The team is really tired as we are in the middle of the Russian league, there have been Women's U19 qualifiers [in April], now we are here - the games have been very close together and the players are very tired, especially the ones also in the senior national team."
Girls on top
But there is one especially strong motivation to defend their crown - Russia's male U17 team took their European Championship for the first time in May and the women, who were first national side from their country to win a UEFA title since the end of the Soviet Union, want to ensure their share of the limelight. "Of course we want to prove to the boys that the girls can play as well," Danilova said. "There is a kind of competition between the girls and boys and we want to prove we can do something."