Guus Hiddink's reputation as a miracle worker was given further credence on Wednesday as a young Russian side overcame a vastly more experienced Swedish one 2-0 in their Euro 2008 Group D clash to progress to the last eight at the expense of the Swedes.
The 61-year-old Dutchman — whose side will face his compatriots in the last eight on Saturday — looked on with a broad smile on his face as goals by Roman Pavlyuchenko in the 24th minute, for his second of the tournament, and Russian player of the year Andrei Arshavin in the 50th minute sealed a deserved victory.
Russia progress to their first ever knockout stages of a major tournament since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, and their meeting with the Dutch will be a repeat to a certain extent of the 1988 final when present Dutch coach Marco van Basten scored in the 2-0 victory over the Soviets.
Hiddink, who took the Netherlands to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals, where they lost on penalties to Brazil, and then South Korea to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals, said that his young bunch — who have the youngest average age of all the sides at Euro — had recorded a famous win over the side with the oldest average age.
“This is a huge win for a side still under construction, with lots of young players and some experienced players,” Hiddink said. “It gives me real pleasure to work with them. In the course of the past three weeks these youngsters have learned a lot.”
Swedish coach Lars Lagerback was gracious in defeat.
“I would like to congratulate the Russians, who really play joyful soccer,” said the soon to be 60-year-old veteran handler. “I think they saw rapidly where they could hurt us and they exploited our weaknesses perfectly.”
Russia produced their usual flowing soccer in the early stages with playmaker Arshavin — coming back after a two match suspension — pulling the strings, and the unimaginative Swedes, who did start with star striker Zlatan Irahimovic despite his knee problem, content to sit back on the whole.
It was the Russians who went closest to opening the scoring in the 20th minute as Yuri Zhirkov unleashed a fierce volley from the left side of the penalty box which just crept past the far post of the Swedes, Arshavin having provoked the corner with a cheeky chip which forced Andreas Isaakson into a tip over.
However, they got a deserved lead in the 24th minute as Pavlyuchenko tucked away a finely made goal for his second of the tournament, having been set up by Zenit-St Petersburg’s rampaging fullback Alexander Anyukov.
The Swedes hit back almost immediately as veteran striker Henrik Larsson got on the end of a long ball and his header clipped the bar much to the relief of Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
The Russians were just playing the most delightful soccer, some of the best of the tournament, and in the 36th minute they went desperately close to doubling their lead as the redoubtable Pavlyuchenko was fed inside the box and his chip beat Isaakson only to clip the post.
The ball was crossed in again and Zhirkov fired fiercely on target only for Isaakson to produce a marvelous tip away save to leave it at that point the Russians having had 13 shots to the Swedes three.
Sweden, though, could not be discounted and Swedish captain Freddi Ljungberg forced Akineev into a scrambled save in the 44th minute but the Swedes failed to take advantage of the corner.
The Russians at last made their overwhelming superiority tell in the 50th minute as Arshavin scored their second, the “little jewel” as he is fondly called, sliding the ball home after another glorious team move with the Zenit-St Petersburg star at the end of Zhirkov’s pass.
The Swedes were pretty toothless up front with Ibrahimovic clearly laboring and it was the Russians who should have gone 3-0 up 10 minutes from time as Konstantin Zyryanov’s shot was deflected onto the post and thence to safety.
Then, as the Swedes pressed forward in desperate search of a goal — Lagerback having sent on veteran 35-year-old striker Marcus Allback in place of a defender — Pavlyuchenko had two glorious chances to add to the Russian tally but first miskicked and then seconds later directed his header into Isaakson’s welcoming hands.
However, for the Swedes there was nothing welcoming about the final result.
All kick-offs 18:45 GMT
• Last night
Portugal vs Germany (at Basel, Switzerland).
Croatia vs Turkey (at Vienna).
Holland vs Russia (at Basel).
Spain vs Italy (at Vienna).
WEEKEND MATCHES: While Tatung FC made good on their chances early on, Taiwan Steel rallied to win the game 2-3 and move to the top with Taichung Futuro Sunday’s action saw Taichung Futuro, Taipower FC and Taiwan Steel tied for first place on 30 points in the Taiwan Football Premier League, while Hang Yuan FC picked up a point to take the No. 4 spot on 25 points after holding Taipower to a scoreless draw. In Taoyuan, Tatung FC hosted Taiwan Steel. It was an exciting matchup, as the visitors rallied from 2-0 down to take the game with three goals. Tatung made good on their chances early on. Honduran midfielder Elias Argueta opened the account 15 minutes into the game with a low shot from the right. Three minutes
Ronnie O’Sullivan delivered a scathing attack on the next generation of snooker players after he made the quarter-finals of the World Snooker Championship on Sunday, ending Chinese star Ding Junhui’s world championship dream. The mercurial 44-year-old Englishman won an enthralling high-quality second-round encounter 13-10 to set up a quarter-final clash with three-time champion Mark Williams. When asked by the BBC whether he thought he would remain at the top of the game for this long, the Briton, who turned professional in 1992, said the poor quality of younger players had secured his position and that something drastic would have to happen
Max Verstappen informed his Red Bull team that he would not be driving “like a grandma” in Formula One’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix on Sunday — and he was as good as his word. The Dutch 22-year-old seized his opportunity at Silverstone, ending dominant Mercedes’ run of four successive wins this season and moving up to second place overall, 30 points behind leader Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen’s confidence shone through early on, after slotting into third place behind the two Mercedes, when he was told by race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase to take care of his tires. “Mate, this is the only chance of being
FULL GAME: Henry Sosa pitched nine innings for the Guardians, allowing only six hits all night, while the Monkeys’ offense were also shut out of their game Outfielder Lin An-ko carried a big bat this week — before his Uni-President Lions ran into the Fubon Guardians last night — blasting four home runs, including a grand slam as his side won four games in a row and moved into second on the CPBL table. However, the Lions could not sustain their super-charged offense for the whole week, as they were shut out 4-0 by the Guardians in New Taipei City. Fubon’s rookie catcher, Jhang Jin-de, took a page from Lin’s playbook. With two men on, Jhang smacked a three-run homer in the sixth inning. Henry Sosa of the Dominican Republic