Not Enough Dutch Courage

For the second major tournament in a row, the team that came out of the starting blocks the quickest have fallen at the quarter-final stage. It is a measure of the quality of last night’s Russian performance that the Netherlands were dependent on an exceptional performance from their goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Saar to even get to extra time in the first place, but ultimately the advantage of not having come into the competition at the end of a long, hard season seemed to tell for Russia. For the Dutch, the mood was sombre. The black armbands were a signifier of the sad personal events surrounding Khalid Bhoularouz, and they started in a sluggish manner, which was in sharp contrast to their performances in the group stage. From the very start, the Russians were too quick and too slick for the Dutch. Andrei Arshavin’s introduction into this Euro 2008 team has been the final piece in a jigsaw constructed by Guus Hiddinck, and this particular missing piece has transformed his team into a fluid, attacking unit and, as their confidence has grown since their opening defeat by Spain, they have started to flourish, firstly with an outstanding performance against Sweden and again last night against a Dutch team that had deservedly jumped to become the tournament favourites off the back three marvellous performances against France, Italy and Romania. Pavlyuchenko...

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