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Hiddink factor should give Spain pause for thought
Spain are trying to keep the lid on the euphoria after their breaking their quarter-final curse with a penalty shoot-out victory over world champions Italy.
Because of the vagaries of the draw for Euro 2008, “la furia roja” now face Russia in the semi-finals, the team they beat 4-1 in their opening match of the tournament.
On paper, Spain have everything running in their favour. Psychologically they have the upper hand given the result of the group game, team morale has been boosted because of the win over Italy, they have no injuries and the first choice players remain fresh after being rested in the final group game against Greece.
Spain triumphed in both their previous semi-final appearances in the competition, over Hungary in 1964 and Denmark in 1984.
But with Guus Hiddink in the opposition dug-out, Spain would do well to be on their guard. The Dutchman was, of course, the coach of South Korea when they knocked Spain out of the 2002 World Cup. He also took an unrated Australia to the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup where they were desperately unlucky not to derail Italy and led the Netherlands to the semis of France 1998.
Hiddink is an expert on Spanish football having coached Real Madrid, Valencia and Betis and he is sure to have a few aces up his sleeve ready for Thursday’s showdown. With Andrei Arshavin in sparkling form following his return from his ban and Roman Pavlyuchenko on form up front, Russia could go all the way.
It has been a good year for Russian sport. Zenit won the UEFA Cup, CSKA Moscow won the Euroleague basketball. Could they make it a hat-trick with Euro 2008?
PHOTO: Guus Hiddink celebrates after Russia’s victory over the Netherlands in Basel, June 21, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Kooren