Russia's coach Guus Hiddink upped the ante ahead of his team's opening Euro 2008 Group D match with Spain on Tuesday by saying that the Spanish were the clear favourites.
The 61-year-old Dutchman – who has already overseen a major finals disappointment for the Spanish when in charge of the South Korea side that beat them in the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals – said he was confident his young side would still put up a decent performance.
“Spain are the huge favourites,” said Hiddink, who is a dab hand at mind games and may well have in mind the tradition of Spanish sides messing up their appearances at major finals.
“However, I am satisfied with the attitude of my team.
“They have worked hard. To do well in a tournament you always have to beat the favourites,” added Hiddink, who has been linked with the vacancy at Chelsea, whose owner Roman Abramovich pays part of his wages as Russia coach.
Hiddink, who coached three clubs in Spain, Real Madrid, Real Betis and Valencia, said it was on paper a case of men against boys.
“Spain are a very experienced side,” said Hiddink.
“Many of my players are appearing in their first major tournament and they need more experience.
“You will see a Russian team that is intent on playing football and complicate life for Spain.
“Nevertheless Spain are the big favourites because of their experience.”
Hiddink has to go into the match without two of his more effective strikers as Pavel Pogrebnyak, the joint leading scorer in last season's UEFA Cup, is out of the tournament while his Zenit St Petersburg team-mate Andrei Arshavin – who was outstanding in Zenit's UEFA Cup final victory over Rangers – is suspended.
Titleholders Greece and Sweden play in the other Group D amtch on Tuesday.
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