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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Women's Team Battles for Recognition

Irina Grigoriyeva was a teenager with more experience playing ice and field hockey when she was tapped to join the newly formed women's national soccer team in 1989.

Ten years later, Grigoriyeva, 27, the reigning queen of Russian soccer, will lead the young team in its first appearance at the World Cup, the sport's main event.

After a touch-and-go qualifying season, Russia beat Finland 2-1 in an away playoff match in October to become the last team from Europe to qualify for the third Women's World Cup, to be held in the United States beginning June 19.

"I am very happy just to be at the World Cup," said Grigoriyeva, who is a high-scoring midfielder for CSKA VVS in Samara and the national team captain. "We will play with the elite of women's soccer."

Grigoriyeva said Russia hopes to finish in the top half at the 32-game tournament, and thus gain entry to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

But first, Grigoriyeva will join other top international players for the FIFA Women's World All-Star Game in San Jose, California, on Sunday.

The event is part of FIFA's newfound commitment to promoting women's soccer around the world.

The World Cup draw will be held at halftime, and teams will be placed into four groups of four teams each, led by the tournament's top seeds - China, Germany, the United States and defending champion Norway.

Oleg Lapshin, president of the Russian Women's Football Association, said that in Russia interest in women's soccer is still low.

Newspapers in Moscow have shown little interest in covering matches, he said, and have made him pay to report scores. "Like an advertisement," he quipped. "I'm giving them results." Television coverage depends on sponsorship money, which is rarely there.

Economic troubles, too, have contributed to the dwindling of women pro teams. In the Soviet Union in 1991, there were 76 teams, 48 of them from Russia. Now there are just 20,.

Still, Grigoriyeva says lately she's noticed a lot more teenage girls in the stands, perhaps suggesting there is a future after all.

Soccer's popularity in Russia depends on her team's performance at the World Cup and the Olympics, Grigoriyeva said. "Without victories and success, there will be no sponsors and no promotion."