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Land of the Giants but where is the Love?
Racy Russia outclassed stodgy Sweden to enter the Land of the Giants in the quarterfinals of Euro 2008 last night and set up a knockout clash coach Guus Hiddink’s countrymen, Holland.
It’s the first time they’ve made it this far in an international competition since the break up of the USSR and they’re straddling the crest of a wave to establish themselves alongside Croatia as the tournament’s dark horses.
Nimble and full of beans, they put a gladiatorial Swedish side to the sword with swift attacking movements, galvanised by the return, and first appearance of the Championships, of key, fresh-faced playmaker Andrei Arshavin.
Striker and England nemesis, Roman Pavlyuchenko and left fullback Yuri Zhirkov also stood out and made Sweden look unimaginative and lacklustre in comparison.
The quarter final between two of the best attacking teams looks sure to be a cracker, but tonight Portugal take on Germany.
There are doubts about how the Germans would cope without Torsten Frings and Lukas Podolski who both took knocks in the 1-0 win over Austria. One man they are certain to be without (and here I come to my big annoyance of the day) is their coach Joachim Low (pronounced ‘Lurve’) who has been banned from the dressing room and the touchline.
The ludicrous decision to uphold the ban by UEFA bigwigs is a result of a little rendezvous in Low’s technical area, instigated by blundering Austria coach Josef Hickersberger who wandered out of his dugout like he was taking a stroll in the garden and casually started chatting to Low with his hands behind his back as though he was passing the time of day musing about the weather over the fence.
Hickersberger was in the wrong, but Low didn’t even react and he looked as puzzled as I was when the ref ordered him off the pitch. It can only be something he said but it seems so petty that he now has to distance himself from this big match.
Maybe a sense of injustice will unite the players? At the back, recently dopey pair, Christoph Metzelder and Per Mertesacker will have to have their wits about them to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo, while up front Mario Gomez needs to short himself out and start offering some kind of attacking threat.
On the back of a goal-rich season for Stuttgart he has been one of the biggest flops of the tournament.
I see it being a tight game, one goal in it. Never write off the Germans.