Monday, June 23, 2008

Russia v. Spain: A Great Tie in Prospect

Whilst I am not entirely looking forward to the first semifinal between Germany and Turkey, the second one between Russia and Spain, on recent evidence is a mouthwatering prospect to say the very least. Russia’s tactically perfect performance against the Dutch, who had played some swashbuckling football in the group stage, was amongst the best witnessed during the last few major international tournaments.

Andrei Arshavin, the architect of Zenit’s victory in the finals of the UEFA Cup was outstanding against the Oranje. He waltzed past defenders with great aplomb and was behind most of Russia’s exceptional play. Arshavin seems destined to move to greener pastures with the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea said to be monitoring his situation. Another standout feature of Russia’s victory was the superb tactics employed by the perennial overachiever Guus Hiddink. Hiddink always seems to get the best out of the bunch of players he has at his disposal and once again his strategic planning was right on the mark. Employing Ivan Saenko on the right wing to counter the attacking threat of Wesley Sneijder was a tactical masterpiece by Hiddink, with the close marking of Van Nistelrooy by Kolodin being another prominent aspect of the Russian success. The outstanding link-up play between Arshavin, Zyrianov and Zhirkov, the buccaneering left back meant that the Dutch were on the back foot almost throughout the match.

Having said that, the Russians do seem somewhat vulnerable when defending set pieces, a flaw which Ruud van Nistelrooy exploited in typical fashion when he converted Sneijder’s wonderfully whipped in free-kick late in regulation time. But apart from the goal conceding instance, there were a couple of other occasions when Van der Vaart’s free kicks were narrowly missed by De Jong and van Nistelrooy, when it seemed easier to score. I am sure Hiddink will be hammering instructions into his players’ heads to make them overcome these shortcomings before the semifinal match against Spain.

Spain on the other hand were somewhat pedestrian against the Italians, but then again it is never easy to play against the Azzurri, particularly when they are in the kind of mood that they were in on Sunday. The Italians played for penalties and in the end paid the penalty for having done so. A midfield quartet of De Rossi, Ambrosini, Aquilani and Perrotta hardly inspired any confidence from an attacking point of view and the only purpose it served was what was intended by Roberto Donadoni, which was to negate Spain’s impressive midfield diamond. But in spite of the best efforts of the Azzurri, David Silva shone like a beacon in the night by cutting in from the right wing time and again and showcasing his supreme control over the football which has made him one of the most sought-after talents in Europe.

Donadoni’s tactics throughout the tournament have been woeful and very unlike an Italian coach. Preferring Gattuso to Aquilani in three out of the four games preceding the quarterfinals was a tactical blunder of gargantuan proportions for my money as Aquilani offers a sort of dynamism that most teams would love to have in their arsenal. Gattuso is a one-dimensional midfielder who does not merit a place alongside the likes of Pirlo and De Rossi. I am unable to understand claims by some experts that a team cannot play without one player adopting the ‘Makelele role’. A midfield trio of Aquliani, De Rossi and Pirlo would have offered enough defensive cover and at the same time would have opened up attacking options for the Azzurri. Another element of surprise was Donadoni’s unwillingness to remove the highly unproductive Toni who simply lacked any zest in front of the goal. Considering Toni’s dreadful display against the French, Fabio Quagliarella should have been given a chance against the Spaniards, but somehow Donadoni seemed to lack the nerve to make the big decisions when they mattered most.

A certain level of experience at club level is required before taking up the mantle of coaching a national team and the Donadoni’s and Van Basten’s for all the success they enjoyed during their playing days lack the tactical astuteness of a Hiddink or a Luis Aragones. Aragones’ intelligent use of his resources has without doubt helped mould Spain, the perennial underachievers into a mentally strong unit. The talent that the Spaniards possess is unquestionable but any doubts over their ability to perform under adversity were put to rest when David Villa scored late on against the Swedes to book their place in the quarters with a game to spare.

I for one am really looking forward to the battle between Russia and Spain, two attack minded teams who will no doubt have a go at each other. Xavi and Iniesta have both in my opinion failed to live up to their high expectations and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fabregas and the newcomer Cazorla, who have been terrific every time they have been on the field of play, start in their place. The Spanish backline though is yet to be suitably tested and the centre-halves Puyol and Marchena are both more than capable of dropping the odd clanger, which would certainly interest Pavlyuchenko and Arshavin. Having said that, I still believe the Spaniards are favourites to go through to the finals where they will in all probability face a dogged and boring German outfit.


Sroyon said...

I just loved the Russians in the quarters. Till now I was watching the Euro from a rather detached standpoint, but Russia's performance was the kind that wins supporters. What's the money on Kolodin scoring a long-ranger in the semi-final?

ayan said...

A Germany - Spain/Russia final might not be so bad. Germany really impressed in their quarterfinal game egainst Portugal. Might be an interesting battle of tactical brilliance v/s flair.

A Couch-side View said...

@ Sroyon: I certainly wouldnt bet against Kolodin hammering one in from long range. He has quite a strike on him.

@ Ayan: Spain or Russia, i suppose it wouldnt matter really. I think the Germans are a tad lucky. They play a boring 4-4-2, which I have never quite liked. But they are without doubt very solid and that could make it difficult for Russia or Spain. But I am sure you will agree that Euro 2008 has been terrific. The football played has been of the highest quality.

Rahul Saha said...

Yes its gonna be an awesome game. Don't know quite whom to support. Was supporting Spain until I saw the Russia quarters. I hope one of them win the final and not Germany or Turkey.

A Couch-side View said...

Yeah i would like one of Spain or Russia to win too.