Hiddink’s golden touch helps cure 20-year hurt
As Russia's players ran around the field in celebration of a milestone victory and received the adulation of their fans, Guus Hiddink stood quietly on his own by the side of the pitch.
Watching with a mixture of pride and satisfaction, he let the players enjoy their moment, even though he had done much to help them become the first Russian team in 20 years to get past the first round of a major championship.
Then, as they walked off the field, he waited and either shook their hands, hugged them or gave them a playful slap on the back of the head. Not until all 23 members of his squad had left the field did he follow them.
“I am very proud of the team,” he said after a 2-0 victory over Sweden had set up a meeting with his native Netherlands in the quarterfinal.
“It’s the progress we have made in a few days with this team and the performance tonight. They played modern football. They tried to get forward as quickly as possible to get the goal they achieved in the first half. In the second half, they tried to push a little bit more. The only criticism you can make is that they didn’t score enough from the opportunities we got.”
Hiddink’s Russia is a young, developing team and the coach sees potential but wants it to continue developing. He has a contract through to the 2010 World Cup and has left the next move open.
“The biggest success for Russian football would be if we are the responsible people,” he said. “If we are very aware to use this momentum from this national team to be very responsible in improving our infrastructure which means giving our young players a chance.
“Scout well, educate them well in the modern way within the clubs and the federation. Then I think this big country can, not now but tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, can be one of the leading countries in Europe.”
In 2002, Hiddink led South Korea to the semifinal of the World Cup, the furthest an Asian team had gone in the biggest football competition on the planet.
Now Hiddink is trying to do a similar thing with Russia. The coach, who also got to within a shootout of the 1998 World Cup with the Netherlands, seems to have the ability to get the best out of any national team he takes over.
After starting with a 4-1 loss to Spain in the same Tivoli stadium with what Hiddink described as “childish and naive” play, Russia edged defending champion Greece 1-0 and now has beaten the Swedes to reach the last eight.