Russia have endeared themselves to many at Euro 2008 with their smart and flowing football but what they have lacked is the final killer touch and here on Wednesday they hope that returning star Andrei Arshavin will add it.
The 27-year-old was unable to play in the first two Euro 2008 Group D matches (a 4-1 defeat to group winners Spain and then a 1-0 win over deposed titleholders Greece) because he was suspended for a costly flash of temper in their final qualifier against Andorra when he kicked an opponent.
That rash behaviour may well have cost him the captaincy for the match with Sweden on Wednesday – coach Guus Hiddink is not one to stand on ceremony when players are ill-disciplined – but his creativity and artistry and ability to inspire his team-mates will be much welcomed.
Indeed several sides, not least Scottish giants Rangers, will attest to his ability to provide the killer pass as his club Zenit St Petersburg rode roughshod over the Scots in the final – he created both goals – and even mighty Bayern Munich.
“I prefer to pass than score goals,” commented Arshavin.
With Russia needing to win and injury worries about several of their midfielders, his return is just the boost that the team needs against a solid if uninspiring Swedish side.
Some coaches would immediately dispense with players who had a two match suspension, but again it says how valuable Arshavin is to the side that Hiddink still brought him along.
He may be small but there is no doubt that he is Russia's little jewel and capable of outwitting any defence and could well take advantage of the rather leaden footed duo of Ollof Mellberg and Petter Hansson, the latter being outmanouevred by David Villa for the Spaniards late goal in their 2-1 win.
And Arshavin, who was named Russian footballer of the year last December having inspired Zenit to the title for the first time since 1984 when they were known as Leningrad easing in with 144 votes ahead of Aleksandr Kerzhakov (110), shows no fear at the thought of taking on what is a vastly more experienced and battle hardened Swedish outfit.
“We don't have an inexperienced side, we have a young side,” said Arshavin.
At 2.5million euros a year his wages seem modest by comparison with fellow midfield artists playing in the major leagues but whilst many a club may come beating their paths to his door he is extremely attached to his city of birth.
The St Petersburg inhabitants are very attached to him as well, liked as much by football fans as intellectuals and artists, who admire the way that he was awarded a diploma in fashion for his thesis on the 'process of development in making Sportswear'.
Arshavin will hope the next development will be that he inspires Russia into the Euro quarter-finals – and a step nearer the country's first major final since the former Soviet Union were beaten by Holland in the 1988 European final.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!