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6.22.2008

A Russian way to eat an orange: Euro 2008

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In a really exciting match, two late goals in extra time gave Russia a 3-1 victory over the superfavorite Netherlands in the Euro 2008 quarterfinal on June 21, booking their first semi-final appearance in a major tournament in two decades.

It's important to remember that in 1988, Marco van Basten's goal in the final brought the Netherlands their only European championship against the Soviet Union, but the former striker's bid to become the first player to win the tournament as a manager was ended byfellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink's Russia squad.

In fact, Netherlands topped the "group of death", winning all their games and scoring nine goals, but came against an opponent that put up a bigger fight than either world champions Italy or World Cup finalists France in the group stage.

The Russian side was on the front foot from the start and striker Roman Pavlyuchenko wasted a free header in the penalty area within the first ten minutes of the match.

Beaten by Spain 4-1 in their opening game, Russia looked a different team in the past two games since the return from suspension of Andrei Arshavin, who was at the heart of every dangerous move for his team. Just the great reflexes of Edwin van der Sar kept the scoresheet unchanged in the first half.

At the other end, Dutch players had a torrid time, with Russia constantly pressing when without the ball. The Dutch squad rarely ventured out wide, preferring insted to pummel their opponents' defence through the middle, but it yielded little result.

Still, should either forwards Andre Ooijer or Ruud van Nistelrooy been quicker in getting to the ball to take advantage of some good crosses, Netherlands would have gone into the break ahead, allowing them to play the counter-attacking style of football that made the Dutch the early favourites to lift the trophy.

Instead, it was Russia that opened the scoring, Pavlyuchenko tapping in Sergei Semak's cross ten minutes after the restart. Not only taking the lead, Russia looked forward to attack van der Sar's goal, while a frustrated Dutch side was left trying their luck with long-range efforts.

Somewhat anti-climactically, Netherlands managed to score an equaliser with five minutes remaining, van Nistelrooy taking advantage of a momentary lapse in concentration from the Russian defence to head in Wesley Snejder's free kick.

And yet, despite the disappointment, Russia would not concede initiative and looked the fresher team in extra time, with Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko and the new player Dmitry Torbinski all going close to scoring against a tiring Dutch side.

It looked increasingly likely that it would take spot kicks to separate the two sides on the night, a situation the Dutch seemed ready to accept, when Russia struck in the 112th minute. Arshavin chased a long ball to the goal line, lobing a ball over van der Sar that three Dutch players rushed to clear, but Torbinsky got to it first, turning the ball from less than one metre.

Dejection was clearly visible on the faces of Dutch players and Russia took advantage to put the final result beyond doubt. Once again, Arshavin proved to be too quick for his marker and his volley flew into the net between van der Sar's legs, taking a slight deflection from John Heitinga.

The Dutch had opted to rest their starters for the final group game, which was still enough to beat Romania, but in the end it was Russia who looked the fresher side throughout the match. Portugal and Croatia, who have fielded reserves in their last group matches as well, are already out of the tournament, which does not bode well for powerfull Spain, who take on Italy in the last quarterfinal on June 22.

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Brazil and Argentina only tied 0-0 despite the World expectation

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South american powerhouses Brazil and Argentina drew 0-0 in a World Cup qualifier in which the two top-ranked teams known for their offensive fire became locked in a defensive battle on Wednesday.

Top-ranked Argentina played conservatively in the first half, not allowing Brazil to take many clean shots on goal. As for the Brazilians, they tried to be aggressive while its defense quickly snuffed out any spark of offense from Argentina.

The defenses tired in the second half and the strikers on both squads had chances.

Argentina's Julio Cruz hit the crossbar in the 56th minute, and five minutes later Brazil's Julio Baptista curled a free kick over Argentina's defense but past the goal.

Argentina young talented Lionel Messi was the most active player on the field, dribbling around Brazil's defense and taking several shots. He nearly gave Argentina a win in injury time, sending a left-footer off Julio Cesar's hands, then putting a rebound just over the net.

The result will partially pacify Brazilian fans after watching their team lose a friendly to Venezuela this month for the first time ever, then lose 2-0 on Sunday to powerfull Paraguay, which leads the South American standings.

"We played a great team with a lot of experience," Julio Cesar admitted.

"We played completely different than we did against Paraguay we played a great defensive game but just couldn't get a goal, unfortunately."

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