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24 Jun 2008 11:02
Coach Guus Hiddink said Russia’s success at Euro 2008 had surprisetd him, and he told his players to enjoy themselves in their semifinal against Spain because whatever the result, it would make them better players.
Hiddink’s men tactically outwitted The Netherlands 3-1 in their quarterfinal, setting up a second meeting in the tournament with Spain, who won their group stage encounter 4-1 in a poor defensive display from the Russians.
They have since tightened up at the back and honed their exciting attacking style of play, and Hiddink said he was impressed at how quickly they had turned things round.
“I am surprised ... not by the skill, I knew the skill of the players was tremendous.
They can control, they can pass and they are skilful players,” he told reporters after a training session in Basel on Monday.
“I was surprised by their openness and the way they learnt very fast some international principles and laws of the game.”
He kept his cards close to his chest about how he might change the team’s approach from the first match against Spain, saying only that he did not expect his opponents to alter their game on Thursday in Vienna.
He has been encouraging the players to savour the moment and not feel under too much pressure.
“It is tremendous to have these experiences,” he said.
“We don’t pressurise ourselves, we just want to play football.”
His players are relishing the prospect of turning the tables on the team that shredded their defence two weeks ago.
“I wanted to play the Spanish,” midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov told reporters. “The whole team made mistakes against Spain and now we’ve fixed them.
“It’s not a group game, it’s for real. It’s a stronger atmosphere, you have to concentrate and not make mistakes.”
Captain Sergei Semak agreed, saying: “We made mistakes the first time, we won’t do [that] again.”
The Russians’ self belief has been growing by the game but they said it was still too early to be thinking about whether they could actually go all the way.
“Everybody is talking about us winning the tournament, but to do this we must win the next two games, two very difficult games,” said Bilyaletdinov.—Reuters
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