Watching Russia beat Holland 3-1 tonight in Basel to qualify for the semi-finals of Euro 2008, we may have seen the future champions of Europe. Their performance, at times, was simply breathtaking.
Over the entire 120 minutes, the best team deservedly won the match. Holland had plenty of chances to score but they were, for once, wasteful in front of the net. The Netherlands was also extremely lethargic in this game especially in midfield where it often seemed like they had forgotten to play their one-touch football which had been so awe-inspiring to watch throughout the tournament thus far.
What impressed me most about Russia was their shooting accuracy. Time after time, Dutch keeper Edwin van der Sar kept Holland in the game after making fingertip saves to prevent Russia from scoring. It wasn’t just Russia’s shooting accuracy but the speed and placement of their shots was simply stunning. The Russians kept on pinging the shots in at van der Sar.
There were so many highlights for the Russians. Dmitri Torbinski’s goal for Russia to make it 2-1 was simply sublime. Andrei Arshavin controlled the midfield and was rewarded for his hard work with a goal. Roman Pavlyuchenko continued to torment Holland and he too got a goal for Russia. While there was little between both teams in the first half, from the second half onwards Russia began to take control and looked by far the better side. Russia coach Guus Hiddink is a bloody genius.
If you haven’t noticed, a pattern is beginning to emerge in Euro 2008. So far, every team that’s qualified for the semi-finals thus far has lost one of their matches in the opening round of the European Championships. Sometimes you have to taste defeat to get the kick up the backside you need to go on to be victorious. The shame of it for Holland was that their first loss of the tournament came in a game where defeat sent them out of the tournament and heading home.