PRAGUE (AP) – 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.