Saturday, June 21, 2008

UEFA Euro 2008: Russia-Holland Recap

How do you say "So much for that," in Dutch? After rampaging through Group C, Holland looked completely ordinary and were dismissed in extra time by a deserving Russia, 3-1. The Dutch were fortunate to reach extra time. After taking a 1-0 lead on a 56th minute goal by Roman Pavluchenko, Russia had chances to seal the victory. But instead the game's second goal came off the head of Ruud van Nistelrooy four minutes before the death.

Given Holland's checkered history with penalty shootouts, the Dutch would have liked a winning score before the 120 mark. But instead it was Guus Hiddink's men grabbing two goals in the second half of the extra session. Dmitri Torbinsky got the game winner in the 112th minute and the dynamic Andrei Arshavin closed things out four minutes later.

More shocking than the upset was the manner in which Russia made Holland look completely ordinary. The swashbuckling style that produced nine goals in the group stages was completely bottled up by Hiddink's disciplined defenders. Keep in mind this was the same defense that was torched by Spain four times in Russia's opener. But since Arshavin's return, Russia are a far more dangerous side, and they now stand one win away from the European final.

The questions as to what went wrong will surround Marco Van Basten's side long after the Dutch legend heads for his new gig at Ajax. While Russia were the better side on the day, if Holland had played anywhere close to the way they did last week, they'd be heading to the semis. Perhaps Group C wasn't as formidable as initially thought. Maybe Holland simply succumbed to the pressure. Either way, it's a blow to the local economy as the throngs of Dutch fans will head home short of the semifinals.

Russia now await Italy or Spain for a Thursday semifinal in Vienna. Russia-Turkey in the Final? Anything's possible.

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