I wanted to post this before the Spain-Russia semifinal @ Euro 2008. But what the heck.. I'll post it all the same. Well the stage was set,for the Dutch to clinch a place in the semifinals,after having put on a display of attacking football of the most lethal kind. Not so long ago, the flying Dutchmen beat the world champions Italy down to their knees and the other world cup finalist France was also pleading the Dutch to stop the merciless onslaught, by the likes of the extremely talented Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie. So it is only logical to think that we were in for another showing of class from the Dutchmen against the Russians,who after the return of Andrei Arshavin in the last group match, were also playing a little enterprising football of their own. But how different it turned out to be!
Right from kick off, it was the Russians who showed more hunger and they were consistently winning the ball in midfield and were making very telling passes,while the Dutch attacks seemed to crumble as soon as they started. A Yuri Zhirkov free kick was well saved by Van der Saar. Zhirkov has been one of the revelations of the tournament. While everyone was expecting the likes of Van Der Vaart and Van Persie and Robben to be flying along the wings,it was the Russian full backs- Zhirkov and Anyukov who lit up the wings with frequent surges into the Dutch half. Zhirkov has arguably been the best fullback of a tournament which features the likes of Philip Lahm and Sergio Ramos.
But the player of the night was Andrei Arshavin, the man who ensured Zenit St.Petersberg left Manchester with the UEFA cup,taking it to Russia for the 2nd straight year, was in formidable touch. After destroying Sweden with his inventive passes and incisive runs, Arshavin was orchestrating the Russian attack. The Dutch simply had no answer to this display of total football. Zhirkov was gettin on the ball in attacking areas,and the centre half Kolodin never thought twice about taking a whack at Van der saar s goal, as he sent 2 shots in quick succession,not too far away from the goal. Pavlyuchenko who has been one of the strikers of the tournament, sent out a signal to the scouts from all major European clubs, when he netted a 54th minute goal,off a cross from captain Semak.
On a night when people were expecting Van Nistelrooy to display some of his legendary poaching abilities, Kolodin reigned supreme, displaying a masterful demonstration of the art of Man-Marking, never giving the dutchman more than a few inches of space. Van the man,who can score from any angle, gave Akinfeev something to do, but the young Russian goalie was never really troubled. Every player wearing a Russian jersey was getting in on the act. Bilyaletdinov also had a good game. Saenko too worked hard in the midfield. The Dutch had their moments too, especially with Van Persie on the field,but it was just not their day. On the other end of the pitch, Pavlyuchenko came very close to his 4th as he struck the crossbar with a fierce drive.
Just when all of us were getting ready to go to sleep, Van Nistelrooy proved his class, heading in a Wes Sneijder free kick,which was the only way the dutch could have scored. But the Russians were not beaten yet. They seemed to find inexhaustible energy resources, as they dug in and closed off the match in extra time, with goals from Dimitri torbinski and the instrumental Andrei Arshavin who managed to slip one past Van der saar. The Dutch hope was over as Van Basten's men were sent packing after an amazing display of football, as it was the Russians who served up some almost Samba-like magic football.
But the Flying-Russians were brought crashing down to earth by Spain and their One touch wizardry. After an even 1st half, it was Spain Vs Akinfeev. As Guus Hiddink had pointed out, the Russians were handling the 2 strikers well, but when Fabregas came on for Villa, the tables turned. The Russians seemed to have run out of steam after 2 fantastic performances,as they were outclassed by Spain in the 2nd half. Akinfeev tried his best,indeed he has been one of the better keepers of the tournament(please overlook the fact that he let in 7 goals from Spain :P). As the match drew to a close and Spain had finally managed to shake of the "Choker tag" after not progressing beyond the quarter finals of a major tournament on 6 previous occassions, there were celebrations all around, as the boys from Iberia were dancing with joy and waiting for a chance to have a go at the Germans.
But please spare a thought for the amazing Russians, who have shown the world that a tournament can be extremely entertaining even without the overrated English, as some unkind souls expressed that the Russians were here at the expense of the English who had "more quality" according to them. But after such fine displays against the Swedes and the Dutch, the Russians have indeed lit up a fantastic tournament, proving that if you dare to dream, you can soar beyond your wildest imaginations. Thank you Russia.........