Denisov delighted to be mixing it with best


A scorer of two crucial goals for Russia in Bulgaria, Yegor Denisov is gaining "invaluable experience" playing against the continent's best at the 2015 UEFA European Under-17 Championship – and is dreaming about the final in Burgas on 22 May.

The FC Zenit academy forward made only two substitute appearances in qualifying totalling 12 minutes and was again on the bench for Mikhail Galaktionov's side's opening Group C match versus Greece. His 72nd-minute headed equaliser in that game earned Russia a 2-2 draw, not to mention the 17-year-old a berth in the starting XI against France three days later.

Though he was withdrawn early in the second half of that 1-0 defeat, Denisov retained his place for the must-win encounter with Scotland, repaying Galaktionov's faith with the breakthrough goal in a 2-0 victory as ten-man Russia edged out Greece for second spot in the section on goal difference.

"This is a very big tournament and the best teams in Europe are here, so it's very interesting to face them and to measure our strength," Denisov – whose club-mate Dmitri Pletnev doubled the lead against Greece, five minutes after Aleksandr Lomovitski was sent off – told "We knew that the opposition would be tough, we were ready for that. It was a really difficult game against France, they have really skilful players, but it was so exciting to play them. You get invaluable experience and become stronger."

With Russia having scraped through to the quarter-finals, where they meet England on Saturday, memories are being evoked of their penalty shoot-out triumph over Italy in the 2013 final in Slovakia. "I watched that match and was cheering for our players," said Denisov, who hails from Vyborg, a town approximately 130km northwest of St Petersburg.

"We've made it to the [FIFA U-17 World Cup] play-offs at least and we've gained some confidence. We are all dreaming about the final – we want to get there and we will fight for that. We want to travel to Chile and we will do everything to make that happen too."

A passionate, thoughtful young man, Denisov is above all appreciative of what he does and the position he finds himself in, pulling on the red shirt of Russia at a major youth finals. "My parents got me into football when I was five and I am extremely grateful to them for that because I am doing the thing I love," he explained. "I'm very lucky to play for the national team. It's every sportsman's dream and I'm very proud."