Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
This Euro 2008 tournament is so good that it was even a pleasure to watch my favourite team (and probably the most impressive until yesterday) Holland getting turfed out by a fantastic young Russian side. The result itself was not very surprising, much less than the rather feeble and tactically limited resistance put up by the Dutch. Andrei Arshavin took the Man of the Match award for the second match running, and after being suspended for the first two matches he has now emerged as a serious contender for the player of the tournament. He was involved in all three Russian goals (scoring the third) and his deep cross from a tight angle for Dmitri Torbinski to score the second was a work of footballing genius. He ran the game, possessing a wonderful first touch and an intelligence and doggedness that add up to the consummate professional.
For the first time ever Russia look a serious force on the international scene (I disregard the Soviet years becuase the great USSR teams were built largely on a bedrock of Ukrainian, Georgian and Belarussian talent, the Russians were often a minority in the selections). The credit for this has to go to Guus Hiddink who has worked once again the magic he has previously done with his native Holland, South Korea and Australia. The talent available in Russia has been poorly marshalled for most of the past twenty years but Hiddink was always going to be the man to whip them into shape. Though they will be without the suspended Torbinski and Yuri Zhirkov for the semi-final against either Italy or Spain, you have to fancy them to cause another upset, particularly their phenomenal fitness which allowed them to pulverise the Dutch in extra time last night (it must be remembered that the Russian players, all but one of whom play at home, are in mid-season). Barry Glendinning over at the Guardian's podcast predicted a Germany-Russia final, a canny verdict that looks like it could come true. With all respect to the other teams still in the tournament (all of whom have played some excellent football), the manner of Russia's play and their sporting attitude makes them the team I want to see win. Can this tournament get even better?