Russia no pushover

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:22 PM ET

VIENNA -- One team faces all the pressure and has everything to lose.

The other faces little pressure and has everything to gain.

Spain has faced the same kind of pressure since they qualified for Euro 2008. A team rated among the most talented in the world, they had precious little to show for it.

Few expected Russia to even qualify for the tournament. But thanks to Croatia, Russia is here in place of England.

Still fewer expected Russia to make it out of the group stage. Yet here Russia sits, playing Spain tomorrow for a spot in the 2008 Euro final.

A week ago, a Spain-Russia confrontation would have left little doubt who the favourite would be.

Yet while Spain is still the given an edge, that edge has gotten considerably thinner.

Russia has convinced many it has the style of play to give Spain all it can handle.

Add the burden Spain faces to be successful and La Furia Roja will carry a significantly heavier load into the game. How they handle the pressure, especially at the start, will determine how successful Spain will be.

A 4-1 victory over Russia in a group game means little now.

"If we play like we did then, we might as well not even start the match," Russia's coach Guus Hiddink was quoted as saying. "The team has learned in a very short time, a lot."

Hiddink has the luxury of calmness. He has already accomplished more than anyone expected at this tournament.

Attending a Hiddink press conference is an entertaining experience. It's obvious he's having fun and it reflects in how his team plays. Every team he takes under his wing produces for him.

He has fielded a lineup of young, athletic stars, long on skills and fitness.

Strikers Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrei Arshavin come to mind.

Arshavin has especially taken over the tournament. Missing the first two games because of suspension, he orchestrated the dismantling of the Netherlands in the quarter-final.

The Zenit St. Petersburg player will likely wind up in Spain or England next season but Spain will have to deal with him first tomorrow.

It's only a coincidence the original Zenit was an early style Russian rocket built as a liquid rocket booster and a stand-alone rocket.

The way Arshavin plays suggests there must be a little liquid rocket fuel in him.

There was a time when Spain didn't have the ability to deal with someone like that. But it showed in their quarter-final win against Italy that it can play lock-down soccer.

But dealing with a group of Russian forwards and midfielders that love to take on challenges, move to open spaces and change positions on the field, is a lot more difficult than dealing with the immobile Italians.

The Russians will have some issues of their own on the backline. The Spanish midfield will have more time and openings to find strikers Fernando Torres and David Villa.

Russia will miss central defender Denis Kolodin and midfielder Dmitry Torbinski who are suspended. Leave it to Hiddink though to most accurately handicap the contest. His love of attacking football is something he's talked about repeatedly at this tournament.

"There will be a clash of two teams who both like to play football," Hiddink said. "I think that's the big win of this tournament -- the teams that like to play football are coming through . . . You cannot predict any result when two teams are clashing with an advanced style."


Videos

Photos