Netherlands 1 Russia 3: Hiddink proves superior to apprentice in magic victory

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The sorcerer proved as superior to his apprentice as Russia were to the Netherlands in yet another enthralling Euro 2008 encounter here on Saturday.

Guus Hiddink, the Dutchman in charge of the Russian team, was responsible some years ago for pushing Marco van Basten into a coaching career. The younger man, having become one of Hiddink's successors as Dutch manager, went into their meeting with his team clear favourites to progress to Thursday's semi-final, but found himself outwitted and at a loss to explain why.

"We didn't play as we did the first three games and I don't know why," Van Basten admitted as Saturday night became Sunday morning. They were not allowed to by Russia's thoroughly modern combination of pressing and swift counter-attacking, inspired by an unlikely looking national hero in Zenit St Petersburg's Andrei Arshavin, managing to control a game while playing only just behind the main striker. Up in the stands Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich must surely have cast covetous eyes on his countryman, who is now understood to be taking English lessons. Everton's David Moyes was impressed after coming up against him in the Uefa Cup this season but was forced to admit even at that stage: "Everton can't afford the roubles." Only the very richest – like Chelsea – could do so now that Arshavin's stock has risen so high.

Suspended for the opening two group games here after absurdly getting himself sent off against Andorra in a qualifying match, he returned to be named man of the match by Uefa's technical committee in the decisive 2-0 win over Sweden and repeated the feat on Saturday after being involved in making Russia's first two goals for Roman Pavlyuchenko and substitute Dmitri Torbinsky, then scoring the third. It was hard on Manchester United's Edwin van der Sar, making his 128th and final international appearance, who made some excellent saves throughout a game with no fewer than 54 attempts on goal.

The Dutch were fortunate to take the game to extra-time with a late header by Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Given the timing of such a blow, Russian heads might have fallen as low as Croatia's did in similar circumstances against Turkey the previous night. Hiddink, however, was able to rally his men before extra-time and avoid any possibility of a similar psychological collapse. Russia finished much the stronger, despite having played the crucial Sweden match three days earlier, after the Netherlands had rested nine players in their final group game.

Their better conditioning was another factor inexplicable to Van Basten, who will now be succeeded by the Feyenoord coach Bert van Marwijk. At fault in not starting with Arsenal's Robin van Persie, then using up his three options for substitutions too early, he was gracious enough to congratulate the victors in their dressing-room and to concede: "They were better than we were."

Hiddink managed to combine praise for his players with a modicum of self-satisfaction in his justifiable assertion that: "The team was superior technically, tactically and physically. We were better than our opponents in all parts of the game."

Englishmen who remember Russia losing 3-0 at Wembley only nine months ago, albeit that the scoreline was a touch flattering, must have wondered how this could be the same team. In a sense it was not, as Hiddink explained before being unable to resist a little dig at Steve McClaren and his squad: "My team was in progression then. I kept on changing and looking for other players as well, which weren't playing for the high-ranked clubs in Russia. They are very keen and very coachable. England had a very good day that day. Maybe their only one!"

More than 25 years' experience as a coach was also put to use in combating the Netherlands' strengths and weaknesses. Believing them to be strongest down the left, Hiddink stationed the disciplined Bundesliga player Ivan Saenko there – the only player in the squad not with a Russian club – and ordered his men to cut the supply to the dangerous Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder. It worked a treat, and Russia gave us one.

Netherlands (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar (Manchester Utd); Bouhlarouz (Seville), Ooijer (Blackburn), Mathijsen (Hamburg), Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord); De Jong (Hamnburg), Engelaar (Twente); Kuyt (Liverpool), Van der Vaart (Hamburg), Sneijder (Real Madrid); Van Nistelrooy (Real Madrid). Substitutes used: Van Persie (Arsenal) for Kuyt, h-t. Heitinga (Ajax) for Bouhlarouz, 54. Afellay (PSV Eindhoven) for Engelaar, 62.

Russia (4-1-3-2): Akinfeev (CSKA); Anyukov (Zenit), Ignashevich (CSKA), Kolodin (Dinamo), Zhirkov (CSKA); Semak (Rubin Kazan); Saenko (Nuremburg), Semshov (Dinamo), Zyryanov (Zenit); Arshavin (Zenit), Pavlyuchenko (Spartak). Substitutes used: Bilyaletdinov (Lokomotiv) for Semshov, 69. Torbinsky (Lokomotiv) for Saenko, 81. Sychev (Lokomotiv) for Pavlyuchenko, 114.

Referee: L Michel (Slovakia).

Booked: Netherlands Bouhlarouz, Van Persie, Van der Vaart. Russia Kolodin, Torbinsky, Zhirkov.

Man of the match: Arshavin.

Comments