Saturday's Euro 2008 quarterfinal affair between Russia and The Netherlands was one for the ages if you are a believer in the impossible. Russia, a country that no one expected to progress out of the group stage had out played and eliminated the heavily favored Dutch side with a score of 3-1 slowly turning their doubters into believers.
What most expected was a highflying Dutch attack that scored nine goals in the opening round but it was Russia who held the tempo testing keeper Edwin Van der Sar throughout the first half. Roman Pavlyuchenko headed a ball over the bar and Denis Kolodin twice fired bullets toward the Dutch net once needing Van der Sar's quick reaction to keep the game scoreless.
The Netherlands almost put themselves ahead with a cross that nearly found Ruud van Nistelrooy 3-yards out but the ball bounced over his leg sending a wave of relief to the Russians. Playmaker Andrei Arshavin curled a shot that was saved well by Van der Sar as Russia regained control after the near scare.
The sides went into the interval with nothing between them but it would be the Russians who drew blood first. It was Arshavin who found Sergei Semak who laid a volley for Pavlyuchenko who would bury the ball in the net in the 56th minute. Sure enough, the Dutch found themselves down for the first time in the tournament and quickly began to pour forward to find any hopes of an equalizer.
With only four minutes remaining they were rewarded with a free kick that was sent into the box by Wesley Sneijder to be found by Nistelrooy who this time headed the ball past a frozen Igor Akinfeev to suddenly bring a lifeless Dutch side into the game they did not show up for.
Minutes after the late goal, Kolodin fouled Sneijder earning himself a second yellow card and forcing Russia to continue on with 10 men. However, as referee Lubos Michel was about to send the high firing defender off he was called over by his linesmen. According to him, Sneijder failed to keep the ball inbounds canceling out the foul by Kolodin and reversing his red card.
As extra time began any sign of backing down by the Russians was not evident as they took up where they had left off continuously bringing the attack towards the Dutch end. In the second frame of extra time, they were denied a penalty when Yuri Zhirkov was taken down in the box but minutes later all would be forgotten.
The unsung hero of the night, Arshavin, found space on the left and sent a sizzling cross over Van der Saar to be poked in by Dmitri Torbinski who moments earlier earned his second consecutive yellow card in two matches barring him from the semi-final on Thursday.
With eight minutes to go, the Russians seemed to be doing the impossible and pushing the heavily favored Dutch with all their might. Arshavin was not done as he found space four minutes later and beat Van der Saar with a low shot that was ricocheted of a Dutch defender sealing a amazing upset his country avenged for their 1988 finale loss to the same Dutch side.
The win gave Russia trainer Guus Hiddink his first semi-final berth in the European Championship against his home country and Russia's first since 1988 and first overall as an independent country. They will now face the winner of Spain vs. Italy in Vienna and hope to continue their unprecedented run.
Check back in later for a recap of the Spain v. Italy game which I am now going to watch.