Vladimir Putin called Guus Hiddink the “lucky” coach for getting Russia into the Euro 2008 championship ahead of England. There was, however, nothing lucky about his 2-0 win over Sweden.
Coach Hiddink, architect of South Korea’s advance to the semi-finals of the World Cup 2002, has done it again. He has brought Russia to the second stage of a top-level tournament. It has been reported that the Russian team won 8 million euros for getting to the second phase from its Federation. The Orange Dutch team is getting only 250,000 euros if they win the entire championship, which they are favoured to do.
Holland is heavily favoured against Russia and deservedly so. Nobody has played as well as they have in this Euro 2008. They defeated world champion Italy 3-0,and runner-up France 4-1. They honoured the sport by defeating Romania 2-0 with their reserves when they could have easily coasted to a tie.
Russia has awoken with two genuine stars in Arshavin and striker Pavlyuchenko and shown signs of youth and vigour. Not enough, however, to defeat magnificent Holland, who have had a few extra days to rest their biggest stars.
Hiddink will start the team that defeated Sweden 2-0. Akinfeev of CSKA Moscow in goal, Anyukov of Zenit at right back, Ignashevich and Kolodin in the middle, and the talented Zhirkov as left back. In midfield you find some of Russia’s best players Semak, Zyryanov, Semshov and Bilyaletdinov of Lokomotiv Moscow. Arshavin directs the orchestra feeding Saenko and Pavluychenko for shots on goal.
It’s a 4 -3-1-2 formation. Against the Swedes the Russians had many chances on goal and the same might happen with Holland. Arshavin can divide and split up defences and Hiddink has called him, “the smartest player he ever coached.”
Pavluchenko is similar to Van Basten as a tall, lanky forward with a great future. This Russia is just a little young and green but with help, and money from the super-rich oligarchs will soon turn into a football superpower .
Holland is already a superpower. Their advance from also-rans to heavy favourites shows you how Van Basten has transformed the team. I think he will start the team that defeated France 4-1,bringing in Robben for Dirk Kuyt. Any team that keeps Robin Van Persie as a substitute must be incredibly strong.
In goal European club champion Edwin van der Saar, Giovanni van Bronkhorst on the left, Joris Mathijsen and Andre Ooijer in the middle, and Khalid Bouhlarhouz on the right. The midfield is composed of Rafael Van der Vaart of Hamburg, Nigel de Jong on right, phenomenal Wesley Sneijder of Real Madrid with Ruud van Nistel-lrooy as striker flanked by either Arjen Robben or Dirk Kuyt. It’s a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Van Persie is ready to come in at any time to score and give the ball to Van Nistelrooy. Van Basten has done well by shoring up his defence and letting his midfielders press the opposing teams in their own area. Italy and France were pressed into losing the ball and making mistakes. The best defence is a good offence and so far Holland has scored 9 goals in 3 games, against tough defenders.
Their great strength is that they have at least five men that can score at all times — Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt and Van Nisterlooy. They are extremely dangerous.
Thus far & no further
Russia will have to play one-touch football to get around the pressing of the Dutch. In the front line they have the talent but not in midfield. Look for the Dutch to use their superior ability there to dominate the game. Van der Saar is a great goalie but Holland’s defence is not impenetrable. If Russia can feed talented Arshavin and Pavylychenko, they can get a goal. The problem is that Holland can get three. They are rested and ready .So I see Holland winning this game 3-1.
Zenit of St Petersburg just won the UEFA Cup and the progress of Russia football is remarkable. Hiddink is a great national team coach. But even a great coach can only go so far and this quarter-final will probably be his last stop in Euro 2008,unless he gets very "lucky". Holland should march triumphantly into the semi-final where Van Basten might find the team he saved from elimination, the Azzurri of Roberto Donadoni or the Spanish team of Aragones for the most classic of semi-finals.