Russians go Dutch

MORRIS DALLA COSTA

, Last Updated: 11:25 AM ET

BASEL -- Euro 2008 is a tournament that just keeps on giving. Today, it gives us yet another intriguing matchup that should be wildly entertaining.

The Netherlands and Russia will clash in today's quarterfinal in Basel.

The Dutch have been the revelation at this event. Their brand of "total football" has been refreshing and invigorating. They've brought attacking football to the game.

Russia is a younger version of the Dutch. They, too, love to come forward.They have talent to score goals.

The sum total of all this is: Goals, lots of goals.

A week ago a Russia-Netherlands matchup would have conjured up visions of a route. Russia started the tournament with a 4-1 loss to Spain; The Dutch thumped both Italy and France.

But things rarely remain static in this tournament.

The Dutch are still playing well, even though they fielded a new lineup against Romania. Russia has found its footing, making it to the knockout stage with a more-than-impressive 2-0 win over Sweden.

Teams with little to fear often make a game better than it's supposed to be. Russia has nothing to lose. It's the first time in 20 years it has made it out of the knockout phase of a tournament.

While the Dutch have Ruud van Nistelrooy on attack, Russia has Roman Pavlyuchenko, a man who will be much sought after when this tournament is over.

Wesley Sneijder has shone in this tournament for the Dutch. Andrei Arshavin is his outstanding counterpart. He sat out the first two games with suspension but came back to skewer Sweden.

The story is just as fascinating on the bench. Marco Van Basten has silenced his Dutch critics.

Dutch-born Guus Hiddink is turning Russia into a mini-me of the Dutch, only he does not have the depth of the Dutch squad.

Hiddink called the Dutch performance in their qualifying group "perfect."

He knows his club is a serious underdog but then again, Hiddink is a master of getting the most out of his teams.

"You could say 'that's it,' " he said at a press conference. "Everyone is happy and satisfied. But that's not the spirit of the game to not want to go on."

Hiddink's teams are known for attacking. He was asked if because of the quality of the Dutch team, he was "scared" to play his normal style.

"I'm scared as hell," Hiddink said. "And when you are scared, you attack and keep attacking. If you drop back, you get more scared."

Hiddink is working at more than making Russia's national team stronger. He wants to improve the quality of soccer in Russia and the team's advancement to the knockout phase of Euro has given the nation a lift in that regard.

In the world of soccer, where nationalities are a big deal, much is made of Hiddink attempting to knock out his home country.

Hiddink is good at a lot of things and one of them is not getting rattled by much.

He was asked if he feels like a traitor for attempting to beat his home country.

"I hope to be a big traitor if successful," he said. "I want to be the 'traitor of the year' in Holland."

The Russians will have their hands full. They are operating on little rest while the main members of the Netherlands squad have had more than a week off.

Hiddink said that after their game against Sweden, he had his team eating at 2.30 a.m. to fill their tanks.

"They didn't have a chance to celebrate in typical Russian fashion," Hiddink said. "I'm not in charge of rooms so I don't know but I think they celebrated in a sober style."

That's Hiddink: "Take me as I am."

Russia and the Netherlands, Van Basten and Hiddink have been good for the game.

That's why the contest today, should be a model of how the game should be played.

"I think it's good for the game that teams in this tournament who attack as soon a possible, who go to attacks at speed, are surviving into the next round," Hiddink said.


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