Russia were outplayed, 4-1, by Spain in the opening game of the European Championships, but no one will be expecting a similar result in Thursday's semifinal rematch. In contrast to Spain, who looked tired and lacking in ideas against Italy in their quarterfinal, Russia appears to be hitting its stride just at the right time, convincingly beating Sweden and the Netherlands in consecutive games.
Russia's Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, compared his striker Roman Pavlyuchenko to a "sleeping giant" now fully awake thanks to his three goals so far in this tournament. One of those came against Spain, Hiddink reminded us. Although he didn't mention the number of chances the talented but raw forward has also squandered in Russia's four games so far.
Hiddink modestly described what he himself had created so far as "a miracle. The players have learned how to gamble on the field, outside Russia, for the first time. Our only aim must be to play good football. Of course, we are the underdogs, but we have come from very far." Before the Netherlands game, no one knew his players' names or the clubs they played at. Against Spain, of course, "we want revenge."