Holland vs. Russia
‘Hiddink against his homeland’ – That was how the press had billed it. Arsene Wenger claimed any advantage for the Russians would be a psychological impact on the Dutch players thinking he would have some sort of inside knowledge.
Of course these were all theories. Holland were unchanged from the side that overcame the World Cup finalists, with Robben suffering a recurrence of a groin problem. Russia started with a 4-4-2, of course this was only a formation on paper, as it was with the Dutch, during the game, there were likely to be positional changes to create wonderful football.
Fittingly, it was a rematch of the Euro 88 final between the two nations, on the very day which Van Basten scored a stunning volley, in what is seen as the most break-taking goal in Euro history.
Early on Dirk Kuyt, who complemented the technical style of some of his fellow midfielders with sheer running and hard graft, headed over after Van Bronckhorst crossed from the left. His fellow full-back, equally impressive in his attacking power and drive, hit a free-kick after Arshavin was fouled on the edge of the area. It had Van Der Sar scrambling across and the European Cup winner pushed it away for a corner. The Russians looked a slick outfit, as Kolodin’s goal-bound drive was deflected wide. The white shirts attacked once more, finding Semshov on the right flank, whose cross was headed over by the enigmatic Pavlyuchenko, outrageous one minute, frustrating the next.
Holland tried to build from the back but the pressing of the Russians denied them the space afforded to them by the bigger sides. The set up of the game allowed Russia to play their typical counter-attacking style, while Holland were forced to play a possession style unsuited to their set-up. The Russians looked more defensively aware from their naïve display in their opening game against the Spanish. Aniukov made a poor defensive header and Van Nistlerooy headed back in towards Sneidjer, who shot with the outside of his foot to the far corner but Ignashevich came across to made a vital block to keep the scores level.
The Dutch got in behind by a long ball, so unlike the style typically associated to them, as Bouhalrouz won a corner, which was cleared to Engelaar who steered his shot wide. Soon afterwards, Kolodin was unfortunate to give away a free-kick on Van Nistlerooy. Sneidjer took it and both De Jong and the Real Madrid striker both missed it by a whisker. At the other end, Arshavin broke and cut in and forced Van Der Sar into a world class save, tipping it past the post. Soon after Denis Kolodin tested the Dutch captain with two vicious strikes from long range, the former forcing him to knock it over, the latter causing him to scramble across as it threatened to dip.
Boulahrouz then played in a pass to Van Nistlerooy, who turned his man, and despite almost slipping, he kept his composure to shoot across Akinfeev, who parried straight into the danger area, but the defence cleared as the Dutch were about to pounce. Kolodin, impressive as he pushed up for any chance of a pot-shot at goal, displayed his defensive flaws by poking the ball when under pressure straight to Van Der Vaart, who shot immediately, albeit straight at Akinfeev, who elected to punch as usual. The second half began as the industrious Kuyt was taken off for Arsenal’s Van Persie, who appeared to add mobility and attacking flair immediately as he drifted in to end a finely crafted Dutch move, but unfortunately sliced his volleyed effort from Van Nistlerooy’s flick.
Once more Van Der Vaart’s deliveries from set-pieces troubled the Russians, whose defensive frailties were evident on occasion despite a huge improvement since their opening game. On this occasion, De Jong ran around the back and failed to connect once more. Heitinga was then brought on for Boulahrouz, who ran off to rapturous applause after the tragic death of his daughter ealier in the week. Holland fell behind as their right flank was adapting, with Arshavin cutting in and then playing a reverse pass down the same flank for Semak to cross. Pavlyuchenko connected with a first-time shot past Van Der Sar as the Russians extended their fine performance to goals.
It was this situation the Dutch had not found themselves in previously. This was the first occasion in which they were a goal behind. The question of character came to the fore, with Van Basten’s side against arguably a weaker team (based on reputation alone), who afforded them little space. Van Persie cut in from the right and blazed a shot over, while later he won a corner and headed wide under pressure from Zhirkov, with Akinfeev stranded. The Russians showed their fluid movement as Pavlyuchenko lifted the ball into Anuikov’s path, and as he controlled, the angle closed but he forced the keeper into sharp stop. Van Nistlerooy was fouled on the edge of the area, as Kolodin was booked, meaning he will be suspended from any potential semi-final involvement. Sneidjer looked to take the free-kick but it was Van Persie who blazed it over, as he struggled to make his frequent involvement count.
Holland weren’t able to get in behind Russia and had possession in areas far from Akinfeev’s net, and thus, they were reduced to shots from long- range, with Van Der Vaart having one such attempt straight at the 22 year old keeper. Russia continued to attack as Pavlyunchencko exploited Mathijsen’s error but his attempted lob was blocked by the brilliant Van Der Sar. The eastern European nation tried to walk the ball in, creating brilliant angles as Zhirkov’s final ball was taken off the target as the net gaped. Sneidjer continued to take shots from long range but they all fell wide or were blocked by the white shirts. Only five minutes remained when Pavlyuchenko was penalised for using his hand to control the ball. Sneidjer whipped a brilliant ball in to the far post to Real Madrid team-mate Van Nistlerooy, who nodded in for his 33rd international goal to equal with Johan Cruyff, arguably the greatest ever to play the beautiful game.
Zhirkov’s driven cross cleared off the goal-line by Ooijer, as Russia reminded their opponents of their clear attacking threat and intent. Lubos Michel appeared to send off (for a second booking) Kolodin for a challenge on the brilliant Sneidjer, but to his credit reversed the decision following consultation with the linesman, who was focussed for a vital decision, as extra t ime loomed. The tireless Sneidjer, who Real Madrid would be idiotic to sell (especially after he confirmed his desire to stay, just recently), burst past a defender and shot, as his team-mates failed to support his run, only to Akinfeev’s chest. Once more the former Ajax playmaker found his club team-mate after a sharp turn, but Van Nistlerooy aimed his shot over. Van Persie cut in and played a one-two with the prolific Real striker, but his weak shot was deflected by Ignashevich but Akinfeev gathered.
Pavlyuchenko cut in from the left flank and hit a fine right-foot shot at the near post that rattled the crossbar as the Russians showed their flair. The brilliant Arshavin, burst past his marker and cut back precisely for the substitute Torbinksy, who side-footed into Van Der Sar’s clutch. Kolodin smacked a free-kick just past the post as the game opened up with chances at both ends. The first half of extra-time ended as penalties loomed with the record of one success in five looming over the Oranje. Zhirkov beat Heitinga with ease and cut into the penalty area. He appeared to be felled but Lubos Michel ordered him to get up.
Arshavin dribbled with wonderful balance, constantly changing pace and unhinging Heitinga as he reached the by-line to cross. The ball stayed in play and bent over Van Der Sar to fall for Torbinsky, who tapped it into a open goal, having been booked earlier meaning he’d miss the semi-final.
The world class Arshavin, who surely has increased his range of suitors from Everton and Newcastle to the likes of Arsenal and Bayern, turned in the box and slotted home through the legs of Van Der Sar at the near post, a disappointing end to a illustrious international career. The little maestro cared until the final minute, showing brilliant character as he fought for every ball. A quarter final in the Euros had always gone to penalties when it went into extra-time – until now that is. Hiddink’s ‘Russian Revolution’, (yes, get used to it, it’s a phrase you’ll be hearing for some time) deservedly put out Holland, who seemed strangely disjointed as Van Basten’s reign ended.
They couldn’t cope with another counter-attacking side, which played with the pressing reminiscent of their group stage games, and the off-the-ball running that was compatible with the vision of the more creative players. They may be defensively vulnerable, especially aerially, but their attacking play, with Anuikov and Zhrikov bombing down the flank, mobility in midfield and attack. They had the threat from long range, with Kolodin, while not so assured defensively, hit long range free-kicks, like Koeman, Witschge and De Boer in Dutch history. The Russians were giving reminders of Holland circa 1974 as they claimed revenge against their 1988 conquerors. Hiddink claimed that he would willingly become ‘traitor of the year’ for a Russian win, and with a £400,000 bonus for reaching the quarter finals, another healthy dose of roubles must have been added to his bank account.
Once more the Dutch choked when it mattered, the only comfort an Arsenal fan can take is the early return of Robin Van Persie. The ‘inferiority complex’ in Dutch football culture was further emphasised, as a side of great team spirit appeared to break down when their usual game could not be administered to the situation at hand. One would expect the Russians to give anyone a run for their money, but their aerial weakness could be exploited by the giant Luca Toni if the trend of Group Stage runners up proving victorious in the quarter finals, Spain could once more fall to the Azzurri as they have done for almost 100 years.
He has done it with South Korea, Australia and Holland. Now he has led Russia to the latter stages of a major international tournament. Whatever he has, it is frightening to think Chelsea could have signed him once upon a time.
Holland 1 – 3 Russia (a.e.t) FT