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The Toe Poke
By ESPN Staff

Russian-born Eremenko regrets playing for Finland

MOSCOW, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Moscow-born Finland striker Alexei Eremenko says he feels more Russian than Finnish and regrets playing for the Nordic country.

'Honestly, I feel more comfortable in Russia than in Finland,' Eremenko, who plays for Russian premier league side Saturn Ramenskoye, was quoted as saying in the Sport-Express newspaper on Tuesday.

'That is because I feel more like a Russian than a Finn. I finally realised that only after coming back to Moscow.'

The 23-year-old moved to Finland at the age of six when his father, former Spartak Moscow striker Alexei Eremenko Sr, joined a Helsinki club.

Eremenko Jr, who has 24 caps and was Finland's top scorer in their 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign with eight goals, said he would rather represent Russia than his adopted country.

'I won't lie, I'd rather play for my homeland,' said the striker, whose younger brother Roman also plays for Finland at under-21 level.

'Unfortunately, when I got my Finnish passport I didn't know what my soccer future would be and if I could ever get a chance to play for Russia's national team. I regret my decision but there's no turning back now.'

Eremenko said he had often been a victim of racial slurs by fellow Finns. 'I've heard a lot of abuse. Of course, I don't look like a real Finn,' said the dark-haired player.

'Although I represent Finland, for them I'm a Russian. This is one of the reasons I don't want to live there. I only come to Finland if I'm called up for the national team and to visit my parents but I'll never set foot in Helsinki again.'

Eremenko, who speaks both Finnish and Swedish after living in a predominantly Swedish-speaking part of Finland, also dismissed Finns as arrogant people.

'The Swedes are much friendlier people than Finns. That's why they don't like each other,' he said.