Euro 2008: Russia and Spain through to Semifinal Clash of Titans
Hello everyone, and welcome back to my Euro 2008 column.
Today, I am peering over Russia's success over the Netherlands and tonight's highly anticipated game, Italy vs. Spain
Both quarter-finals could not be decided in normal time. So it was left in extra time to decide which team would march one step further in the competition and who would simply pack their bags and go home to watch the rest of the Euro 2008 on the big screen.
Russia vs. Netherlands
In what may have been the upset of the tournament, the Russian revolution overran the Orange storm with a three goal wipe-out job that saw the awe-inspiring Dutch crashing and burning in Russian hell.
If the first half was any indication to how events would unfold in the 2nd half and beyond, it was Russia having the better of it with long-range efforts from Kolodin's right footer on target as always and, putting heavy pressure on Van Der Sar's shoulders.
It was a surprise the first 45 minutes of play ended goalless. Equally efforts from Van Der Vaart, Bouhlarouz and Van Nistelroy could not change the outcome either!
The Russians walked in the second half badder, meaner, stronger, leaner and most of all with purpose. They set out quickly to make their intentions loud and clear.
They finally found what they were looking for, on 56th minute with a left footer from Pavluchenko finding the back of Van Der Sar's net, a feat up until then only Thierry Henry of France had managed to achieve in this competition so far!
Russia looked all smiles and set to advance into the semi, with further efforts from Saenki and Pavluchenko mounting the onslaught onto the Dutch's defense, looking to screw the last nail into the Dutch's coffin.
However, the orange storm was still not showing signs of abating, with Sjneider's free kick on 86th minute finding Van Nistelroy's diving header into promised land for the late equaliser, the Dutch looked anything but dead. Russia 1 - 1 The Netherlands!
So off we were for another half hour of extra time before the much-dreaded penalty shoot out session would unfold if the score was to remain a draw.
Yet again the Russians made their intentions heard, they were in no mood for penalties; early efforts from Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko, Kolodin, Zhirkov and Torbinsky may not have found the back of the net, but it was a demonstration of strength that did the damage to the Dutch's defense, eventually the breach was exploited with Torbinsky's goal on the 112th minute and Arshavin's thor hammer blow on the 116th minute, which buried the Dutch dream six feet deep.
The orange storm evaporated in the most painful fashion; in the qualifying stages the Netherlands looked so dominant, having deposed of early favourites Italy 3-0 and France 4-1. The Dutch went in the quarter-finals with high expectations on their shoulders and fans enthusiasm and attendance numbers at games yet to be seen from other nations.
With the sheer belief they would destroy anybody that would dare stand in their way; the Dutch found an opponent that refused to go down the path Italy, France and Romania all obediently took. The Russian Revolution took out the eye of the orange storm writing a page of European football history in what may go down as the upset of the tournament.
One small point of consolation for The Netherlands lies in the fact that Russia's coach is none other than Dutchman Guus Hiddink!
If one man is to be held accountable for Russia's mighty football tonight, we all know who to point the finger at. His record as a manager of foreign squads speaks volumes. Russia is just another team he is taking to the next level!
Italy vs. Spain
This confrontation had "game of the tournament" written all over it, on paper that is. However, it quickly turned out as the most boring game of football of the year.
Neither team managed to produce the level of football they were expected, with jeering fans and lacklustre opportunities for goals on both side; this game failed to live up to its expectations.
Spain had control of the game throughout, with early efforts from Ambrossini, Perotta, Villa and Silva all just adding to Buffon's workout routine. The Spanish armada's onslaught was met by a "Fort Knox" like Italian defense, solid, compact and most of all not allowing any opportunity to turn into a goal; occasionally the Italians were up front with burst of ingenuity and set play.
They had one of the most unmissable chances to seal the deal on 61st minute; when Camoranesi should have scored, yet Casillas rushing back into his goal, somehow made that most important of saves.
This kept his team and country in the competition by the skin of their teeth in one of the most agitated moments of the match.
Chances would come both ways, the clearest though must have been Senna's 25 yarder on 81st minute, Buffon tested in all measures saw the ball releasing itself from its grip finding the near post in what must have been a heart bouncing moment for the Italian keeper and captain!!!
Cometh extra time, efforts from all side in the form of shots headers and more shots from Silva, Di natale, Rossi and a late one from Cazorla all but failed to produce that one goal the crowds of fans were looking forward to. The game was further stretched on to the much dreaded penalty shoot outs session.
On paper, statistics were stacked against Spain as the date 22nd of June is synonymous with failures in all major competition, 22nd June Euro 1996 against England losing on penalties, 22nd of June world cup 2002 again on penalties losing to South Korea.
Yet today, the 22nd of June 2008 Spain turned the tables crushing "La Squadra Azzurra" with Fabregas sending his team off to the semis and the Italians back home to watch the rest of the Euro in high definition:) Spain 4 - 2 Italy.
We're all set tongue-in-cheek for the next stage of the competition, for Russia vs. Spain will be a different game altogether; Spain beat Russia 4-1 in the qualifying stages; however, the Spanish side can expect an altogether different Russian side, filled with confidence having deposed of the mighty Dutch.
This semi will be the one to watch; turning the page over the other semi with Turkey against Germany this one should be filled with drama and heart-bouncing moments.
The bottom line is: one of this four teams will walk out on June 29 champion of Europe, with what we have witnessed so far we could be in for another surprise.
Four years ago, Greece took the silverware in the most unexpected fashion... Could this Euro 2008 unfold in similar fashion with Turkey and Russia both likely candidates to that extent?
I definitely hope so!
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