Teams: Udinese,Lokomotiv Moscow,Russia NT
Teamwork counts for Onopko
Few players at UEFA EURO 2004™ will mean quite as much to their teams as Russia defender Viktor Onopko.
With 112 caps to his name, the veteran centre-back is his country's defensive anchor as well as their captain.
At 34, Onopko is back in Russia with FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast, but his long experience of playing in Spain's Primera División with Real Oviedo and Rayo Vallecano will stand him in good stead for the challenges ahead in Portugal. Georgi Yartsev's men are in Group A with Portugal, Spain and Greece. Here he discusses their prospects with uefa.com.
uefa.com: With only five defenders receiving regular call-ups to the Russia squad, could a shortage of top-class defenders be a problem at EURO 2004™?
Viktor Onopko: I don't think so. In modern football, the team attacks together and defends together. We have five or six players who can play in the back four. We use four in each game, but a few other players in the squad can be moved into defence if needed. It's more important how we defend as a team, and how we attack as a team. Teamwork is our great strength. We don't have players who can dribble past half of the opposition and score, but we do have a team where players help each other. If we stick together, we can take on any one.
uefa.com: Teamwork is a hallmark of Russian sides, but a team also needs a player who can lead the others to victory. Does Russia have such players?
Onopko: We do. Take Dmitri Bulykin, who scored a hat-trick against Switzerland when we won 4-1. Take Aleksei Smertin, who has been excellent for the national team on many occasions. Take Vadim Evseev - he was perfect in the play-off against Wales when he kept Ryan Giggs quiet. He was booed at by the crowd in Cardiff, but he still scored the winning goal which took us to Portugal.
uefa.com: Russia have a lot of young players - who do you expect to do well at EURO 2004™?
Onopko: I will not single any out, because I don't want them to get big-headed. What I will say is that we might not have too many young players, but those we do have are very talented. If they go on developing they can become very big players. However, it's often said that this or that footballer is an up and coming superstar, and then in six months no one even knows who he is. It's very important to work hard and never get arrogant, never pay attention to the press and do what has to be done daily. That's the only way to the top.
uefa.com: As captain, how do you help to influence the atmosphere in the team?
Onopko: It is important to lead by example. Off the pitch, I prefer to be low-key. It is important for our young players to keep their cool, not to be afraid, and to build up confidence. I would also say they should ignore the press. I haven't read newspapers for seven years and it helps. Of course, I can always help a young man at work if I see that something is not happening for him. You build team spirit by helping one another. We try to be together as much as we can - this makes us effective on the pitch.
uefa.com: Has the moment come for Russian football to shine?
Onopko: I wouldn't want to say that but I hope that is what is going to happen.