Euro 2012: Pogrebnyak aims to shine for Russia

A left knee injury forced Pavel Pogrebnyak to watch the last

European Championship on television. This time, the Russia striker

is looking have the same impact at Euro 2012 as he did this year in

the English Premier League.

The powerful 28-year-old center forward exploded onto the scene

in January after arriving at Fulham from Stuttgart. He scored only

minutes into his Fulham debut and went on to notch five goals in

his first three matches, including a hat trick against

Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Injury put the brakes on the goal glut, but when he returned to

action recently, he immediately regained his scoring touch,

notching the 100th goal of his career in Fulham’s 2-1 win over

Wigan.

Pogrebnyak was joint top scorer in the 2008 UEFA Cup campaign

won by his former club Zenit St. Petersburg with 10 goals, even

though he was suspended for the final 2-0 victory over Scottish

club Rangers.

Missing that final was followed by even greater heartache when

an injury on the eve of Euro 2008 forced him out of the tournament,

in which the unheralded Russian team advanced to the

semifinals.

”I was very upset. My injury was not well timed,” Pogrebnyak

said in an interview with UEFA. ”I supported them on TV and called

them wishing them to win.”

Now he is eager to make amends in Poland and Ukraine and add to

his tally of eight goals in 31 international appearances.

He is considered likely to spearhead Russia’s forward line in

Group A, where the team faces co-host Poland, Euro 2004 champion

Greece and the Czech Republic.

Pogrebnyak was with his former team, Stuttgart, when the draw

for Euro 2012 was made.

”Everybody’s reaction was we got an easy draw, but I believe we

have the most equal group, where all the opponents are equal,” he

said. ”We are even at a disadvantage because we have one of the

host teams playing in our group. That’s why it will be very

interesting – qualifying from the group is not guaranteed for

anyone.”

A strong tournament in Poland and Ukraine would also help

Pogrebnyak negotiate his next club contract as he becomes a free

agent when his short-term Fulham deal expires.

Fulham coach Martin Jol has publicly said he hopes to keep

Pogrebnyak at Craven Cottage after the end of this season, saying

he has already made him a good offer and virtually guaranteed him a

permanent spot at center forward.

”With me, Pavel knows that if he gives 100 percent he starts,”

Jol said.

Pogrebnyak will be hoping Russia coach Dick Advocaat feels the

same way at Euro 2012.