Hiddink says improved Russia will play Spain

If Spain is expecting the same kind of generosity from Russia in the European Championship semifinals that it received in the teams’ first
match of the tournament, it had better think again.

Spain beat Russia 4-1 in Innsbruck on June 10 to give coach Guus Hiddink’s inexperienced team a lesson in clinical finishing and counterattacking football. It also taught the Russians not to turn over
the ball so easily in dangerous positions to sides with players like David Villa up front.

”We tried of course to improve,” Hiddink said on Tuesday after his team’s first training session in the Austrian capital. ”If we play as we did before, then we don’t even have to start this game. We can hand over our wallets to Spain.”

Villa was the chief pickpocket in Innsbruck, scoring a hat trick.

But he has only added one goal since and Spain has struggled to play as well again, while Russia has improved with each match, culminating in its 3-1 win over tournament favorite The Netherlands in the
quarterfinals.

”The team has learned in a very short time a lot. We hope to continue that,” Hiddink said.

Some analysts have suggested Russia has an advantage at Euro 2008 because most of its players have only played 11 league games this season, leaving them much fresher than teams like Spain and Italy, whose players have been through grueling club seasons before getting to Euro 2008.

In the quarterfinals, Russia looked far fitter than The Netherlands in extra time and overran coach Marco van Basten’s team to score twice.

But Hiddink insists that the experience of tough competitions gives Russia’s opponents an edge.

”This is always the advantage of more experienced teams like Spain,” he said.

”They are used to playing every four or five days, tough matches.”

With Russia and Spain both liking to attack, Hiddink predicts the match at Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna will send fans home happy, whoever wins.

”There will be, I think, a clash of two teams who both like to play football,” Hiddink said. ”I think that’s the big win of this tournament — the teams that like to play football, they are coming through … people like to see this way of football. You cannot predict any result when two teams are clashing with an advanced and offensive style. – Sapa-AP

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