Can’t call this one. IF Russia plays the way they can and have and IF Holland plays the way they can and have, I would pick Russia to win. It’s for one simple reason – they look like they can create multiple chances from any style of play. They created chances when the pace was walk up slow against Greece, they scored off quick counter attacks against Sweden and they had chances against Spain, even though the scoreline didn’t reflect the balance. I am still amazed at how calmly and well they move the ball around in the opponent’s penalty box. They remind me of Arsenal – except that Russia plays even quicker one touch (no Hleb or Cesc to play on the ball as much), they are better able to find space in the opponent’s box with direct passing as opposed to one-two give and go’s and they don’t rely as much on breakaway speed. It’s no surprise that Wenger is supposedly looking to buy Arshavin to replace Adebayor (if he goes to Milan). I actually think Arshavin is a better replacement for Hleb. He’s quicker, more direct and shoots more than Hleb who tends to hold the ball too much (though he is an amazing player) for the Arsenal offense. Pavlyuchenko is another one who might cause Ooijer and Mathijsen some trouble. He’s just a bit too selfish on occasion, but I think he will give them trouble in the air.
Having said all that, and built Russia up (huge weapon is Hiddink’s ability as a coach and his knowledge of the Dutch game), it’s hard to go against the Dutch given the fact that their skill players are in good form. They are not older and fatigued like the Swedes. Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, Rafael Van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Ruud van Nistelrooy. That should be more that enough. I think Robin probably comes off the bench so that Van Basten can have Engelaar and De Jong or Heitenga to slow down the Russian offense. In any case, it’s going to be won on speed on the counter and which defense plays better. I think the Dutch will be a bit more disciplined and, with Van der Sar in goal, should have enough to win the game. Key matchup will be Zhirkov v Bouhlarouz. I can’t imagine how he can focus enough to play after the tragedy he has just suffered.
Pre-game prediction: Holland 3 Russia 1
Player of the game: Arjen Robben