Russia’s stay at UEFA Women’s EURO 2013, like their three previous finals appearances, did not last long, but it was certainly far from forgettable.
When Russia decided to replace coach Farid Benstiti with Sergei Lavrentyev just before the play-offs against Austria, some were concerned. They won 3-1 on aggregate, but Austria had not been expected to even make the play-offs, and in the finals Russia were drawn with hotly-tipped France, 2009 runners-up England and rapidly progressing Spain in Group C.
A quarter-final place seemed a distant prospect, and even more so after the opener in Norrkoping when Russia were defeated by France 3-1 and lost their youngest player at the tournament, Anastasia Pozdeeva, to a serious knee injury. The 20-year-old midfielder would say afterwards that Russia were too nervous in the first game, but that there was still much to play for.
She was right. Russia met England in Linkoping and were astonishingly close to their final-ever victory at a UEFA Women’s EURO finals. Russia went ahead through Nelli Korovkina only for substitute Toni Duggan to equalise with 30 seconds of added time to go.
“We were very self-assured and that helped a lot,” said defender Alla Sidorovskaya after the final whistle. “Of course we are disappointed, but I would never call it a slap in the face.”
Russia still had a lifeline: beat Spain in Norrkoping and they were through. Their opponents were clear favourites again, but why worry about that? Lavrentyev sent on an additional defensive midfielder after a poor opening 30 minutes had left them a goal down and Russia all of a sudden took the game in hand. They equalised, and could have scored a couple more, but with England losing, the draw sent them into another draw – between them and Denmark to decide the second-best third-placed team with both on two points.
That was held in Norrkoping about one hour after the final whistle of the game against Spain, and the entire Russia squad followed the proceedings in the Nya Parken press-conference room. It is hard to imagine how they felt after UEFA Executive Committee member Karen Espelund picked out Denmark, and Russia were travelling home rather than to Halmstad to play hosts Sweden.
“I think we will continue improving,” said Elena Terekhova, goalscorer against Spain. “Everything is in our hands.” Lavrentyev added: “It is very pleasing that the fans started to follow our women’s team. We will do our best to develop women’s football in Russia. I want to thank all the supporters and the city of Norrkoping for their hospitality.”