I was ready for a let-down—and it hasn’t happened.
After a viral epidemic of Sexy Football in the group stage of Euro 2008, a return to the usual cautionary, survive-and-advance storyline seemed almost inevitable once we hit the quarterfinals.
But what have we gotten instead? A 3-2 pinball shootout between Germany and Portugal and yet another Hail Mary classic by the Turks as they came back from the grave to eliminate Croatia on penalties.
Now comes a match-up that could make those games seem like Greece-vs.-Romania:
Netherlands-Russia (2:45 p.m. ET, ABC). Guus Hiddink is a Dutchman who loves to throw caution to the wind. So is Marco van Basten. Thankfully for us, they’re the two coaches in what figures to be a rollicking affair pitting two of the most breathtaking teams of the tournament.
Star playmaker Andrei Arshavin transformed the Russians with his return against Sweden, leading a 2-0 romp, and this could be the game that most tests the Dutch centerbacks (Joris Mathijsen and Andre Ooijer), especially if Arshavin continues to draw inspired play out of the up-and-down Roman Pavlyuchenko and Konstantin Zyryanov. Look for Russia to continue probing down the left side with marauding wing-back Yuri Zhirkov, but keep in mind that space will be harder to find down that side—where the Dutch play more stay-at-home defense (usually with Khalid Boulahrouz).
Yet for as many questions as there are about the Dutch central defense, I have a distinct memory of what happened the last time Russia’s defenders faced a high-level attack. That was in the 4-1 first-round loss to Spain, you may recall, when Russian centerback Denis Kolodin wet the bed in about every way imaginable. With Holland’s relentless attack bearing down on the Russians (see: Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Rudd van Nistelrooy, Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie), I’m envisioning a similar performance by Kolodin and his backline mates.
My predictions have been brutal in the quarters (0-2 so far), but we keep coming back for more. Look for a group winner to finally prevail in a quarterfinal game. Netherlands 4, Russia 2.
Who do you like today? Do you think conservative soccer will rear its ugly head before the end of the tournament? Please post your comments below and come back for postgame reaction on the Euro 2008 Blog ...