Netherlands (Ruud van Nistelrooy 86′) 1-3 (AET) Russia (R. Pavlyuchenko 56′, D. Torbinski 112′, A. Arshavin 116′)
St Jakob Park, Basel
Quarterfinals, Euro 2008
Saturday 21 June 2008
Kickoff: 20:45 CET, 14:45 EST
Sometimes justice is not served on the pitch when a team dominates from the first to the final whistle but in Basle Russia got exactly what they deserved after a fine performance that simply blew the Dutch away. Here is the best and the worst of the action in the SOCCERLENS Full Time File…
There was much to admire in all three Russian goals but the pick of the bunch had to be Torbinksi’s second in second-half injury-time which effectively saw off Holland’s challenge. Man-of-the-match Arshavin produced an improbable, looping cross from the left and Torbinski ghosted in between two defenders to finish from close range with the outside of his left boot, stunning the massed Dutch throngs.
The game was van der Sar’s 128th and final appearance for his country and although he picked the ball from the back of his net three times, the Manchester United goalkeeper was nonetheless in great form. His best stop came in the 30th minute of the first-half as Arshavin cut inside Boulahrouz from the left and unleashed a low, curling right-footed drive but van der Sar was able to get his six foot five frame down in time to tip it around the post.
It was a good-tempered encounter on the whole but Boulahrouz did lower the tone in the first half when he allowed his frustration to boil over. The Dutch defender was still aggrieved at a challenge on him from Arshavin and decided to take retribution on Zhirkov with a clumsy lunge at the Russian defender’s left shin that fortunately did not result in any permanent damage.
Slovakian referee Lubos Michel kept a relatively low profile throughout but he did make one major mistake when he failed to award Russia a penalty in extra-time. Zhirkov broke purposefully into the Dutch area and just as he readied himself for a shot, Heitinga stood on his left foot from behind and the opportunity was lost. Michel waved away the claims for a spot kick but mercifully his error was not to deny Russia the victory they so richly deserved.
He may have scored Holland’s solitary goal but van Nistelrooy could have changed the complexion of the whole game in the first-half if he had been able to get on the end of Sneijder’s inviting free kick. The dead ball curled tantalisingly into the Russian box but van Nistelrooy was unable to make any contact from a mere six yards out and Holland’s best chance of the match was gone.
Every Russian player distinguished themselves but the undisputed conductor of the orchestra was Arshavin, who was simply superb and at times unplayable. He scored the third, set up the second and gave the Dutch back four an absolutely nightmarish time as he ghosted between them at will. It was an enthralling master class in how to play the second striker’s role and his ability to pick up possession in front of the Netherlands defence and bring in his team-mates was the key to Russia’s dominance and their eventual triumph. Europe’s top clubs will undoubtedly be vying for his signature between now and the close of the transfer window.
It wasn’t that Holland played terribly, so it seems churlish to single out one of the men in orange but van der Vaart was certainly a big disappointment. The Hamburg playmaker was anonymous throughout, failing to stem Russia forays forward and contributing little in the attacking third of the pitch.
THE TWO GAFFERS
What more can you say about Hiddink? The man who guided Holland to the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup, South Korea to the last four of the same tournament four years later and also took underdogs Australia to the quarters in 2006 has done it again.
The fact he was able to pick his side up from their 4-1 mauling against Spain in their opening game is impressive enough but the way his side kept pushing forward against Holland, even in extra time, was sensational.
Tactically, he was spot on. Handing Arshavin a roving brief was the big difference between the two sides and the way he kept the Dutch wide men at bay, pushing the full-backs Zhirkov and Anyukov as high up the pitch as possible, was inspired.
10 / 10
MARCO VAN BASTEN
It’s not that van Basten made any tactical blunders but he has to take the bulk of the responsibility for a tepid Dutch display that made a mockery of their fluid, attacking performances earlier in the tournament.
Whereas Holland had looked irrepressible in the group stages, they looked devoid of ideas against the Russians and once it became clear they were not going to be able to forge down the wide channels at will, there appeared to be no Plan B.
The most disappointing aspect of the performance was the abject service received by van Nistelrooy, leaving the Netherlands looking like a toothless tiger in desperate need of ideas and invention.