Russia coach Guus Hiddink, recalling the hazardous qualification route his team suffered to get to Vienna, insisted he was keeping his feet firmly on the ground ahead of Thursday's Euro 2008 semi-final with Spain.
If England had defeated Croatia at Wembley in the final qualifier back in November then Steve McClaren's men, and not the young Russians, would have taken their place at this feast of European football.
Having snuck in by the back door Russia has punched above its weight and now lies one game away from Sunday's final – an amazing achievement after that opening 4-1 rout dished out by their last four rivals Spain in their opening group game.
“I cannot forget that we had an irregular qualification, good results then bad results,” Hiddink told a press conference here Wednesday.
“That's why I'm realistic and not getting carried away by our success because we know where we've come from.
“Then at the finals we've taken it step by step, and I can be proud of the team not just from the results but satisfaction in the way they are showing how modern football can be played.”
Russia's first step proved a real wake up call when the Spanish strike force led by David Villa's hat-trick got their European campaign off to a painful start.
“After that defeat we made an amazing amount of progress,” Hiddink remarked.
“We tried to play good football in that first match, but we fell into a trap, we gave a lot of presents away to Spain.
“After that game our training sessions were focused on basic elements in defence, that's improved a lot.
“For the games against Greece, Sweden and Holland we've improved a lot in this area.
“Which leaves us where we are today.”
He added: “We can have great respect for Spain, they came top of their group, and then won on penalties against a tough Italian block.
“It will have been a relief for them to get into the semi-finals and I'm looking foraward to the clash between two teams who like to play with technical skill.
“You can't predict the result but hopefully it'll be an exciting game.”
Russia's performance at Euro 2008 has set Russian football a major challenge, according to the Dutchman.
“The challenge is for Russian football to establish itself and to regain its position in european and international football.
“It's not just for me, the challenge is for Russia to make use of the momentunm we've achieved here to improve infrastructure in the country.”
Hiddink then supervised a behind closed doors training session after which team captain Sergei Semak spelled out the significance of the match up with Spain.
“It's very important for us, for our fans. It's not going to be easy, but if we can play like we did against the Dutch anything is possible.”
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