Roman Pavlyuchenko: Nobody expected us to do what we did last time, beating the Dutch and reaching the semi-finals – especially since good luck helped us get through, with Croatia beating England in the last qualifying game. We won the qualifying group this time which should give us more confidence. Maybe the fact that our rivals do not know exactly what to expect from us will help. Also, we have a very experienced team. We are not tournament favourites, but we will try to do our best and go step by step, thinking about one game at a time.
How do you rate your group opponents?
Many people say that we were lucky to get the opponents we got, comparing us to Ukraine who have to play England, France and Sweden. But our group is no easier than any other. Besides, we have a host team to play against in the second, maybe crucial game.
Was Euro 2012 the main reason you left Tottenham Hotspur and returned to Russia?
Yes, to a large extent. If you want to be part of the national squad, irrespective of all the past merits, it is not enough to come on as a substitute from time to time. I knew I would have a regular place at Lokomotiv [Moscow]. I thought a lot about my situation, discussed it with my close friends. Now I know it was the right decision to come back to Russia.
It was a big surprise to many that you returned to Lokomotiv, rather than Spartak Moscow…
There was a general discussion with Spartak once, when I came to practice with them before a national-team training camp, but it did not go further than that. Lokomotiv made a specific offer. I remain a Spartak fan deep in my heart, but now my only club is Lokomotiv.
Did you have options in England and other countries?
Yes, but it was about joining this or that team on loan, which was unacceptable for Tottenham.
Is the competition tougher in England or Russia?
Now that we have a tournament of eight top teams, the struggle has become tougher in the Russian league. In England there are five top clubs and the rest. Here nobody is surprised when eighth-placed Kuban are close to beating Zenit or CSKA. And less classy teams are helped by the low quality of pitches in Russia. Sometimes you want to take the ball in your hands, carry and throw it like they do in rugby.
The stronger sides are waiting for the grass to grow. The game is, of course, speedier in England, and the general atmosphere is different. What is common for both leagues is that you are being ruthlessly hit. It is my job being hit, of course, but sometimes I think that football is turning into ice hockey.
How do you feel when you are used as a right midfielder?
Frankly, sometimes I do not know where to run in this case. But I am ready to accept any position on the pitch – even goalie if it is necessary.
Would you consider joining Anzhi if you got an offer from this nouveau riche club?
Guus Hiddink once called you “a sleeping giant”…
The giant is awake when it is time to be. And I will never have hard feelings towards Guus, whatever he may say. You never get offended by him.
You had problems learning English while in London. Now the Lokomotiv president has ordered his players to learn it within six months. How will you all cope with it?
I can communicate and read in English now. It is important in today’s life, of course. At the same time, why don’t foreign coaches in Russia learn our language if they come to work here?
Interview by Victor Gusev