In the latest of a series of interviews ahead of Euro 2008, Russia and FC Nuremberg striker Ivan Saenko talks about the key role Coach Guus Hiddink has played in Russian soccer and his own expectations for Euro 2008.
Saenko, 24, joined the Bundesliga in 2001
Ivan Saenko, 24, began his soccer career in 2001 with Germany's Karlsruher SC as one of only a few Bundesliga players from Russia. In 2005, he transferred to FC Nuremberg, which took the German Cup in 2007. That same year, Saenko debuted with the Russian national team.
DW-WORLD.DE: After a disappointing Euro 2004 in Portugal, where Russia went out in the first round, and after failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2006, Russia are back to challenge soccer's greatest at this year's European Championship.
Ivan Saenko: Yes, you could say that. Of course, this is very good for the whole country, for all of Russia. All the people will be happy when we play at Euro 2008. And if we're successful, it will be very good for Russian soccer.
The developments over the past few years have been very positive. Thanks to national coach Guus Hiddink?
I think so. We have a very good team now, a very young team. Guus Hiddink, our coach, wanted to form a very young team. You could say we're now planning something new.
When not playing for Russia, Saenko kicks for FC Nuremberg
How did he manage to awake a new fighting spirit in the Russian national team?
We have a great coach and all the players respect him. He's built up a completely new, young team. Everyone feels the coach trusts that everything at Euro 2008 will work out.
The Russian league has gotten stronger. For example, the UEFA trophy is evidence of FC Zenit's achievements.
Yes, they have very good players. Almost all the players are from Russia and the level at the Championship is getting better and better.
What can we expect from Russia at Euro 2008?
We don't need to look too far ahead; we should develop from game to game and concentrate on each match. Of course we'd all be glad to make it past the group phase. Only God knows what'll happen after that.
Russia are grouped with title defenders Greece. Does this match present a particular challenge?
Only the best teams play at the European Championship. Every team is a challenge and that's why we have to concentrate on each one.
Also against Spain and Sweden, the other teams in Group D?
Yes, like I said, only Europe's best teams are there and every team is a challenge, whether Spain, Sweden or Greece. You have to give a hundred percent against every team.