Excellent win for Russia last night over Sweden (2-0)

Two completely different teams – that’s the way I saw it. And I’m not talking about Sweden as one of them. The Russia that took the field last night was utterly and vastly different from the one that had lost 4-1 to Spain, in a rather hideous exhibition of how not to play defense.

Naturally, the online British papers I read this morning paid the most attention to the author of Russia’s second goal, Arshavin.  He was terrific, giving the Swedish defense fits with his speed, passing and dribbling.  However, he was far from alone on the night.  Pavlyuchenko had a number of excellent chances, converting one to give Russia the lead at the 25th minute.  Zhirkov was a revelation, causing Sweden no end of problems with his blazing runs down the left wing.  Akinfeev looked a little too nonchalant on some of his saves, but he did the job well.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference from the Spanish debacle, apart from the overall zip the offense showed last night, was the defense and – to use a hockey term – “forechecking.”  The Russians attacked the ball in defense and put a lot of pressure on the Swedes in the latter’s half, causing them to make innacurate passes while rushing to clear.  Tackles were largely effective and there always seemed to be a defender in motion near any Swede in the attacking zone; a huge change from the “pylon” defense offered to the Spaniards.

Overall, a great night for Russian football and one that will have opened quite a few eyes.

Still, for me this victory sets up a quarter-final match that can only be bittersweet, since it will now be my two favourite teams (other than, naturally, Scotland) now playing for life and death on Saturday.  One will be going home and leaving me disappointed.

Will the Netherlands, originators of “total football” defeat last night’s heroes of the genre?  Form on paper would say “yes.”  But the match won’t be played on paper.  Both teams have speed, tricky forwards and a history of falling at inportant hurdles.

It’s going to be an exquisite agony to watch!

UPDATE:  As one would expect, the blogger known as Kim Zigfeld (pseudonym, certainly,) a.k.a.”La Russophobe” had a hissy-fit over the fact that Russia-critical Robert Amsterdam Blog dared to celebrate Russia’s victory.

I, for one, would have been rather surprised to see the “Nazi team” playing in 1958.


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