Dutch ready for Russian riposte in duel for semis
Dutch coach contemplates his "luxury problems" as his team gets ready to face Russia Saturday…
20 June 2008
SWITZERLAND - Dutch coach Marco van Basten has some luxury problems to solve when he pits his wits against compatriot Guus Hiddink on Saturday in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals.
Having seen his side demolish Italy and France, van Basten knows he now faces a different proposition in Hiddink's high-flying Russians.
In the 2-0 defeat of Sweden, Russia's swift counter-attacking play looked just as potent as the Dutch game on the break.
If the Netherlands are to advance against Russia, 43-year-old van Basten knows he will have to outfox his veteran Dutch counterpart, 18 years his senior, who seems to have the knack of success at big tournaments.
It could make for an intriguing encounter in Basle: the Dutch have some deadly weapons with players such as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wesley Snijder on form, but van Basten must fear a Russian riposte from tournament's youngest squad and the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, goal scorers in the 2-0 defeat of Sweden.
"It's a special game because I know the players, I know the coach and more people within the squad I worked with," Hiddink said.
"But we play the style that they like to play. It has to be an interesting clash."
Van Basten fielded a largely second XI in defeating Romania 2-0, and several of the so-called second string are now banging on the first-team door.
Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie are just two players whose form warrants selection, but neither started in the 3-0 defeat of world champions Italy and the 4-1 humbling of France.
The Dutch coach referred to his "luxury problem" earlier this week, and many a coach at Euro 2008 would envy him having a player like van Persie hitting form after a season beset by injury.
However, the Arsenal striker, who came on in the second half against France for Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt, may have to settle for a similar role.
Flying winger Robben would begin only if van Basten decides to sacrifice one of his two holding midfield players, Orlando Engelaar or Nigel de Jong, but with Arshavin a threat in this area that would go against his entire way of thinking.
There is also a question mark over right-back Khalid Boulahrouz following the death of his prematurely-born daughter Anissa.
The defender, who played in all three of his side's Group C victories, left training on Wednesday after his wife, Sabia, was taken to hospital, but rejoined his team-mates on Thursday.
Van Basten warned this week that the tournament was now really starting with the knock-out phase and would produce different pressures and emotions.
The Dutch have impressed in the past only to tumble, often in penalty shoot-outs: they have been involved in spot-kicks for four straight tournaments since winning the title in 1988.
They lost three in a row - against winners Denmark in 1992 (semi-final), France in 1996 (quarter-final) and Italy in 2000 (semi-final) - before overcoming Sweden on penalties in the quarter-finals in Portugal four years ago.
Having won six Dutch titles with PSV Eindhoven and coached four nations, Hiddink has the experience to know how to confront the Dutch, whom he led to the World Cup semi-finals in 1998.
He has the Midas touch at big tournaments, steering South Korea to fourth place at the 2002 World Cup and taking Australia to the second round of the 2006 World Cup in the country's first appearance in the tournament for 32 years.
Now he has the Russians believing in themselves again.
No team involving Russian players had progressed to the second round of a major tournament since the former Soviet Union reached the Euro 1988 final - when van Basten's spectacular volley helped give the Dutch their only major title.
By Barry Whelan