Greece 0 Russia 1: Hiddink sees room for improvement in Russia

The Soviet Union was one of the giants of the European Championship, winning the inaugural competition in 1960 and finishing as runner-up in 1964, 1972 and 1988. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of Communism in the years following that last defeat, however, the Russian state that was at the heart of the USSR has struggled.

In 1992, as the main component of the Commonwealth of Independent States, they reached the eight-team European finals but did not emerge from their group. Since starting to compete as Russia, from August 1992, they have reached only four of seven major finals tournaments prior to this one and have never gone beyond the group stage.

That Ukraine reached the last eight of the 1992 World Cup and Latvia qualified for Euro 2004 only added to Russian embarrassment. It seemed that without the Ukrainians who made up the bulk of the 1988 team and the occasional exceptional footballer from elsewhere, like Alexander Hleb of Arsenal and Belarus, Russia could not punch their weight.

That may be about to change. Cash is flooding into Russian football as the oligarchs seek non-political ways to make an impact. Brazilian and Croatian internationals are playing in the Russian league. CSKA Moscow won the Uefa Cup in 2005 and Zenit St Petersburg this year. Most significantly, Roman Abramovich is underwriting the employment of Guus Hiddink as the national side's coach.

After Saturday's defeat of Greece in Salzburg, Hiddink's team are within reach of becoming the first exclusively Russian team to reach the knockout stages of a major tournament. Victory over Sweden in Innsbruck on Wednesday will secure a quarter-final against Hiddink's native Netherlands, the Soviet Union's conquerors in that 1988 final.

Russia will need to be more clinical against the Swedes. They were the better team on Saturday and could have put half a dozen past the holders, but Greece were also allowed a string of chances. The one goal either team managed was a 33rd-minute tap-in by Konstantin Zyryanov after the Greece goalkeeper, Antonis Nikopolidis, went walkabout.

Hiddink was pleased with the improvement from the 4-1 defeat by Spain, but recognised that there remains room for improvement. His focus, however, is on the long term. He is contracted until 2010 and is helping overhaul Russia's development programme.

"Russia is not a big power in world football," he said, "but Russian football is developing. It is important the national team performs well, but even if the first team is not performing well you must go on with improving the infrastructure – training centres, new stadiums.

"There must also be a renewal of the methods of training. With this huge country – 140 million people – if you organise well in scouting and youth development, then step by step it can be a powerhouse."

If the Russians are coming, the Greeks are history. Their 2004 win looks more than ever like a freak result. Otto Rehhagel, their 69-year-old coach, may now be pensioned off.

Not that he intends to go quietly. After an acrimonious exchange with Greek journalists, he said: "The Acropolis has been around for thousands of years, we won't be. That puts things in perspective."

Greece (4-3-3): Nikopolidis (Olympiakos); Seitaridis (Atletico Madrid), Dellas (AEK Athens), Kyrgiakos (Eintracht Frankfurt), Torosidis (Olympiakos); Katsouranis (Benfica), Basinas (Real Mallorca), Patsatzogou (Olympiakos); Charisteas (Nuremburg), Liberopoulos (AEK Athens), Amanatidis (Eintracht Frankfurt). Substitutes used: Karagounis (Panathinaikos) for Seitaridis, 39; Gekas (Bayer Leverkusen) for Liberopoulos, 58; Giannokopolous (unattached) for Amanatidis, 80

Russia (4-1-3-1-1): Akinfeyev (CSKA Moscow); Anyukov (Zenit St Petersburg), Kolodin (Dynamo Moscow), Ignashevich (CSKA ), Zhirkov (CSKA); Semak (Rubin Kazan); Zyryanov (Zenit St Petersburg), Semshov (Dynamo Moscow), Bilyaletdinov (Lokomotiv Moscow); Torbinski (Lokomotiv Moscow); Pavlyuchenko (Spartak Moscow). Substitutes used: Saenko (Nuremberg) for Bilyaletdinov, 69; V Berezutski (CSKA) for Anyukov, 87.

Referee: R Rosetti (Italy).

Booked: Greece Karagounis, Liberopoulos; Russia Saenko, Torbinski.

Man of the match: Torbinski.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk