Thursday, 19 June 2008

Russia show themselves to be contenders

At the outset I declared that I would be supporting Russia in the European Championships, and after an uninspired start Guus Hiddink’s team showed themselves genuine contenders last night with a slick, inventive display of passing football against Sweden.

In their opening fixture, against Spain, Russia had demonstrated in spells, their adroitness in possession, but a propensity to play at pedestrian pace and a readiness to surrender the ball, allowed a strong Spanish side to claim an easy victory. In the following encounter, against Greece, the Russians improved, turning possession more effectively into opportunity and allowing attacking full-back Yuri Zhirkov licence to roam unfettered on the left flank.

Last night, with crafty forward Arshavin returning, Russia began to produce the ole football which characterised Zenit St Petersburg’s UEFA Cup winning campaign. They won 2-0, with goals from rangy Spartak striker Roman Pavlyuchenko and Zenit’s Arshavin, but would have increased that margin substantially, had their forwards not shown almost comic profligacy in front of goal.

Russia will now play Holland in the quarter finals, the first time they have competed in the knock out stages since playing the same opposition in the 1988 final. This is striking evidence of the gathering strength and youthful vigour of Russian football. Their opponents have confounded expectations, and criticism from Johann Cruyff (amongst others), to prove themselves worthy successors to previous illustrious Dutch teams.

I am slightly worried for Russia, for the simple reason that, although they may match (and indeed mirror), the Dutch facility for passing and movement, I believe the Netherlands may be more adept when it comes to converting intricate combinations of passes into goals. Russia’s principle out and out striker (for Arshavin is more of a provider who drifts wide frequently or operates in the hole) is Pavlyuchenko, who boasts skill, speed and height, but whose goals to chances ratio has not been good.

That said, Russia were entrancing last night, and sides managed by Guus Hiddink acquire an aura when they compete in finals competitions. Against Sweden their speed of thought and craft looked at least equal to that so far displayed by the Dutch. The quarter final will be on Saturday night and I would like to see Russia progress, if only to facilitate more pretentious ‘Russian football and national revival’ blog posts from yours truly.

11 comments:

Hernandez said...

Russia won't win it. I hope Croatia win, after the suffering their people endured during the 90s at the hands of the Serbs who thankfully aren't in this competition. Plus they have a cool kit.

Chekov said...

1) I haven't predicted that Russia will win it. On the contrary, I suggested that I feared for Russia in this quarter final.

2) They have more chance of winning the tournament than your picks, France.

3) Croatia won't win it.

4) Your grasp of the disintegration of Yugoslavia isn't too rounded.

;-)

Hernandez said...

In fairness I acknowledged that France might not get out of the group, but if they did (which they didn't in the end) they would have a great chance. If we are being fastidious about things then I would also point out that you also suggested that France were "potential winners".

Who do you think will win it Chekthumper?

Chekov said...

I said Spain at the outset and have no real reason to change that opinion. France were shite from start to finish.

Hernandez said...

I wouldn't be displeased if Spain won it. There are still question marks over their mental strength though. I put them in the same bracket as Portugal. Great to watch but always bottle it when it REALLY matters. I hope Holland win -it would be great to see Dirk Kuyt lift the trophy!

CW said...

Whoever wins it, there's no denying it's been a great tournament so far. Plenty of goals and drama, plus the odd upset. Hopefully the knock-out stages will produce some classic encounters - and fingers crossed - as few penalty shoot-outs as possible.

Chekov said...

"Russia won't win it. I hope Croatia win"

Wow. What a pundit you are!

Aidan said...

That was a brilliant performance by Russia against Holland, they wiped the floor with them. Arazhvarin(?) is one tasty player, I wouldn't mind seeing him play for Man City. I am glad that the anti-football of Italy didn't get through so now Spain V Russia should be a great game. I fancy Russia because their blanket defence/swift counter game will snuff out the Spanish.
Mind you every prediction I make seems to be wrong.

Hernandez said...

Might be wise to wait until they actually lift the trophy Chekov before making such comments....

Chekov said...

Why? They've done better than any of your tips. Even if they don't make it past the semis they've proved that they were genuine contenders all along. Unlike France and Croatia. Of course this is the man who thinks Jamie Carragher is 'the problem' with Liverpool and Harry Kewell & Jermaine Pennant are the way forward. So in truth we're into 'blown up or stuffed up' territory.

Hernandez said...

I didn't tip Croatia. I just said I hoped they would win. Ok - I was wrong with France, but Martin O'neill also tipped France and we are all allowed to get predictions wrong. Anyway, stating that Russia could be "strong contenders" hardly makes you a footballing expert. At least I actually stuck my neck out and made a firm prediction. Your tournament preview was a masterpiece in ambivalence!

At no point did I say Kewell and Pennant were the way forward. I just said they could be useful squad players, and this was about a year ago. I still maintain Liverpool won't win the title as long as Carra is a first choice centre back. Don't get me wrong, he is a good player but has too many weaknesses, not least his lack of pace.