Three thoughts heading into today’s semifinal showdown between Russia and Spain (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN, barring any unforeseen lightning bolts):
• How did Russia’s Andrei Arshavin slip under the international radar? The only thing that stunned me as much as Arshavin’s star-making domination of the Netherlands and Sweden was discovering this: he’s 27 years old. Turns out that Arshavin has been a promising talent in Russia since making his debut for Zenit St. Petersburg in 2000 and producing sick highlight reels like this. Yet while he made his debut for Russia in 2002, the team hadn’t qualified for a major tournament between
the 2002 World Cup Euro 2004 and Euro 2008. Held back by his own immaturity, according to several accounts, Arshavin started buckling down a bit in 2006 under his two new Dutch coaches—Dick Advocaat (at Zenit) and Guus Hiddink (with Russia)—and won his first Russian league MVP award that year.
Earlier this year Arshavin led Zenit to the UEFA Cup title (European club soccer’s NIT), and now he’s on the verge of a big-money move to Spain or England. If he can do his thing again today and take down Spain, Arshavin will have a chance to put himself among the greats in European Championship history in the final against Germany on Sunday. If you want to know more here’s the best article on Arshavin that I’ve seen this week.
• Can Russia pull off its third straight upset? Why not? Forget the 4-1 that Spain hung on Russia in their Euro opener. Arshavin didn’t play in that game (due to suspension), the Russian defense wet the bed (chief perpetrator Denis Kolodin won’t play today on a yellow-card suspension) and the Russian attack put Spain on its heels at times. Forwards David Villa and Fernando Torres will exert serious pressure on the probable new Russian centerback, Aleksei Berezutski, but he and Sergei Ignashevich shouldn’t have communication issues since they also partner at CSKA Moscow. Bottom line: if Russia can put the squeeze on Spain’s talented but small midfielders, if Roman Pavlyuchenko can keep providing one sterling finish a game, and if Arshavin can keep his mojo going, then I think the Russians will win this game. Russia 3, Spain 2.
• I hope we can see the whole game today. There’s not much else to say after yesterday’s TV transmission fiasco on the Turkey-Germany game. Shame on UEFA for not being prepared with a back-up plan in case something entirely plausible like a severe thunderstorm happened. But shame on ESPN, too, for erroneously claiming to viewers that the entire world was missing as much of the game as we were in the U.S.—nearly 25 minutes of the second half, including two goals and the final whistle. As several Blog commenters noted, many European countries were able to tap into the Swiss feed and barely missed any of the game. (At least ESPN rebroadcast the match in its entirety later in the evening.) In the big picture it’s great that ESPN has been showing all the Euro games this time around, but yesterday was a big, big downer.
Through-balls: Who knew that Roman Abramovich might end up having more success bankrolling Russia’s national team than he’s had with his own Chelsea team? ... During the brief late stretch when U.S. viewers got the signal back yesterday, I figured we must have been watching the Italian or Spanish feeds, since cameras were suddenly focusing on a lot more attractive women in the stands ... If I’m Luis Aragonés, I’m starting Cesc today in place of Xavi. Not that I’m expecting that to happen ... Russia’s Pavlyuchenko (or Pavs, as me and my buddies call him) is a maddening player. Yes, he’s had two great finishes against Sweden and Holland, but he’s also terribly erratic at times. I wonder if some big club is going to throw a lot of money at Pavs and be disappointed in the end ... Memo to Aragonés: if you get the urge to put on Dani Güiza, just say no.
Who do you like in today’s game? How wide-open do you think it will be? Please post your comments below and check back after the game for the latest edition of the Euro 2008 Blog ...