Sunday, June 22, 2008

Euro 2008: Holland vs Russia (Q/F)

Russia Stun Mighty Dutch in Quarter Finals

BASEL: What price a Turkey-Russia final, we had mused beforehand, probably the least appealing prospect for the organizers and most supporters. But this Russian team, built by a Dutchman with Dutch values about how the beautiful game should be played, would grace the final in Vienna next Sunday after a stunning performance to knock out the team many considered favorites to lift the trophy.

Only an extraordinary miss by striker Roman Pavlyuchenko denied them a straightforward victory but after Holland's late equaliser, they simply would not be denied in extra time, scoring twice in the final eight minutes.

Hiddink took South Korea to the last four of the World Cup before reaching the finals and reaching the second stage with Australia, and while Sweden needed only a draw to qualify, it was soon apparent that the Russians were better equipped, with Roman Pavlyuchenko scoring midway through the first half. The outcome was effectively determined when Andrei Arshavin, restored after completing a two-match ban, capped a fluent display with Russia's second.

Once again, Holland's great entertainers came unstuck just when belief was building that they would claim their first European title since 1988 with their traditional brand of eye-pleasing football. And with Croatia departing on Friday night and Spain facing a formidable task against the Italians tonight, it is looking as though the familiar faces of Italy and Germany will once again be the biggest threat to the Russians.

For almost the whole game, the Dutch were outplayed and outwitted by Russia and their wily old coach Guus Hiddink, a former Holland manager who has built his current team on Dutch lines. They simply out-did the Dutch at what they thought was their own game, moving the ball around swiftly and interchanging positions. And fittingly, the brilliant Andrei Arshavin, who tormented the Dutch all night, scored the goal that finally finished them off, albeit with a deflection.

Russia's powerful Spartak Moscow striker Pavlyuchenko scored his third goal of this tournament to give his country the lead, which for so long looked like being the winner. But shortly before Ruud van Nistelrooy's headed equaliser four minutes from the end of normal time, he missed an open goal after a stunning piece of football by the Russians, almost making amends in extra time with a shot that struck the angle of post and bar.

Denis Kolodin, the defender from Dynamo Moscow with dynamite in his feet, has yet to score for Russia but threatened to break Edwin Van Der Sar's hands with two thumping long-range efforts in the first half. And Arshavin, the little prince from St Petersburg, produced a cunning little curler that almost deceived the goalkeeper.

Arshavin and Sergei Sermak pulled all the strings in midfield and when Diniyar Bilyaletdinov came off the bench, he joined in the fun of pulling apart the Dutch, who must have regretted manager Marco Van Basten's decision to use all three substitutes early in the second half. Ever since their 'Total Football' era in the 1970s, Holland have been the choice of romantic neutrals at these championships. And the way they began this tournament encouraged the belief that the great Orange machine was going to roll over everything in its path.

Russia, however, who looked set for a Siberian homecoming after a 4-1 thumping by Spain in their opening game, recovered their rhythm and poise when Arshavin returned from suspension in the final group game against Sweden, giving a slick passing performance that the Dutch would have admired. Last night they bettered it with a display as good as any we have seen at these championships.

Van Basten must have known long before the end that his dream of becoming the first man to win the European championships as a player and a manager was over, having turned to his bench to make three swift changes at the start of the second half. Robin van Persie was sent on at the start of the second half and then the disappointing Khalid Boulahrouz gave way to John Heitinga.

The Russians, however, took the lead with a beautifully worked goal in the 56th minute. Sergei Semak found the space to deliver a killing ball in and Pavlyuchenko forced himself in front of Joris Mathijsen to finish. It was the first time Holland had gone behind in the tournament and despite their late equaliser, Russia continued to make most of the chances in extra time. Finally, Dmitri Torbinski rose at the far post to head what we thought was the winner until Arshavin had the final word, giving the scoreline a deserved and more realistic look.

1 comment :

  1. Shailendra PrasadJune 25, 2008 1:36 PM

    Interesting reading. Excellent presentation and useful for future reference also.