The group stages of Euro 2008 are in the books, and on the final day of group play, Russia turns in a fabulous performance to qualify for the knockout round while eliminating Sweden.
In case you missed it, here are brief recaps of today’s Group D contests:
RUSSIA 2, SWEDEN 0: Russia blitzed Sweden from the opening whistle, got a goal from Roman Pavlyuchenko in the 24th minute and played well from start to finish en route to a stunning victory in what was a de facto knockout game for a spot in the quarterfinals. Andrei Arshavin scored off a fantastic sweeping move in the 50th minute to double Russia’s advantage and ensure they advanced.
SPAIN 2, GREECE 1: Spain, composed of second-string players, got second-half goals from Ruben de la Red and Daniel Guiza to come from behind against the defending champs. Guiza’s goal came in the 88th minute and left Greece with nothing. Shock winners four years ago at the European championships, Greece failed to earn a single point in 2008 and leaves the tournament as its last-place team.
MY ANALYSIS: Gotta admit I didn’t see this one coming. After watching Russia get whipped by Spain on Day 1 of Group D, I thought to myself, ‘Looks like this will finally be the tournament where the magic of Russia coach Gus Hiddink runs out.’
Yeah, rest assured that the magic of Hiddink is alive and well.
For the fourth consecutive time, Hiddink has led a country at a major tournament to the knockout round.
Full marks to Hiddink and his Russian players, who got going from the word, ‘Go’ against Sweden and took the game to their opponents. One goal in each half has the Russians through the group stages and into the quarterfinals of Euro 2008, where they’ll face highly-favored Netherlands.
Russia’s exuberance was a treat to watch today, and if they play with that kind of excitement against Netherlands, it could make things awfully exciting.
With the group stages in the books, our attention turns entirely to the quarterfinals, which begin tomorrow with Portugal vs. Germany. On paper, all four quarterfinal contests have the potential to be outstanding, and this tournament, which has been very good up until now, promises to get even better.
TODAY’S STAR MAN: Andrei Arshavin, Russia. Several Russian players would’ve been deserving of recognition here, but I’ll go with this precocious forward. Arshavin missed the first two group games through suspension, but he was drafted into the starting lineup against Sweden and rewarded Hiddink’s faith with a terrific display. Quite simply, he was fantastic throughout and was rewarded for his effort with a goal in the 50th minute.
TODAY’S TOP GOAL: Andrei Arshavin’s goal vs. Sweden. Both of Russia’s goals were gems and shared many of the same characteristics, but I’ll go with this second one. On this occasion, the Russians intercept the ball near midfield, where Arshavin pings it to left back Yuri Zhirkov, who is bombing down the left channel. Zhirkov then cuts the ball back to Arshavin inside the penalty box, and his smart finish beats Swedish keeper Andreas Isaksson.
Germany vs. Portugal, ESPN, 12:45 p.m.
For those of you who caught today’s action, what did you think of the proceedings? Any disagreements with my choice for player of the day or goal of the day?