When Guus Hiddink was appointed Russia coach on 14 April 2006, he took over a team that had been pipped to the FIFA World Cup qualifying play-offs by unfancied Slovakia.
Four years on, Hiddink took charge for the last time in Wednesday's 1-1 draw in Hungary, leaving behind a side who had just endured a World Cup play-off defeat by underdogs Slovenia. Yet there was so much more to the reign of the Dutchman, who will assume the helm of Turkey – like Russia, surprise UEFA EURO 2008 semi-finalists – on 1 August.
"During my time with Russia we have had highs and lows," the 63-year-old said. "The biggest disappointment has been missing the World Cup. We were just one goal short in Slovenia. Nonetheless I would like to thank the team and the coaching staff, everyone who has helped me. I recently learned that in Russian 'goodbye' means 'we will see each other'. That is why I am not saying goodbye. I am sure Russia will make it to EURO 2012 – this team has huge potential."
Russia captain Sergei Semak, who returned to the national side under Hiddink after a long absence, did not hide his sorrow at seeing the coach go – yet tried to be optimistic. "I want to thank Guus for the results we achieved, some of which were great," the FC Rubin Kazan midfielder said. "The Hiddink era is dead, but life goes on. A new coach will come and we will carry on. Our team is young, and most of the lads will be available for selection."
Midfielder Dmitri Torbinski, whose extra-time goal restored Russia's lead in the standout match of Hiddink's tenure – the 3-1 UEFA EURO 2008 quarter-final defeat of the Netherlands – said: "To be honest, it hasn't sunk in that we're parting with Guus. But the coach is leaving and we're staying. We are already thinking about the next qualifying campaign."
Meanwhile, defender Denis Kolodin promised he would be following the progress of a coach who changed the face of the Russia team. "It is very sad that Hiddink is leaving, but I will support him in his future career, regardless of where he coaches," he said.
Hiddink's reign: key dates
14 April 2006: Watched by 200 reporters, Hiddink signs a contract with the Russian Football Union (RFS). He continues to coach PSV Eindhoven and Australia for a further two months, guiding the Socceroos to the last 16 of the Germany World Cup.
17 July 2006: Hiddink starts work. For his first visit to RFS headquarters, he wears red trousers and no socks in his shoes – drawing a mixed reaction from the Russian media. Some observers trumpet the benefits of a free-thinking coach.
16 August 2006: A successful debut is assured when Pavel Pogrebnyak, sent on as a late substitute against friendly opponents Latvia, scores the winner in the third minute of stoppage time.
7 October 2006: The first real setback occurs in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying when Russia concede a late goal to draw 1-1 at home to Israel.
7 February 2007: Now Hiddink tastes defeat, losing a friendly 4-1 to the Netherlands.
12 September 2007: Hiddink loses a competitive game for the first time with Russia, 3-0 against England at Wembley.
17 October 2007: It is payback time as England are beaten 2-1 in Moscow. The hosts come from behind thanks to two-goal substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko, whom Hiddink has criticised before the match.
21 November 2007: An unbelievable end to qualifying – a seemingly fatal defeat in Israel four days before is forgotten as Russia win in Andorra and England – needing only a draw – suffer a 3-2 home loss to Croatia. "Incredible!" says Hiddink. "In the final two matches we played Russian roulette and won."
24 March 2008: The boss extends his contract until June 2010.
18 June 2008: After beginning UEFA EURO 2008 with a 4-1 reverse against Spain, followed by a 1-0 victory over Greece, Russia see off Sweden 2-0 to reach a first major championship quarter-final in 20 years.
21 June 2008: Russia stun the previously rampant Dutch 3-1 in Basel to advance to the semi-finals, where they fall again to Spain.
28 June 2008: The XXX Moscow International Film Festival names Hiddink as best director for his success with the national team.
2 July 2008: Hiddink and the squad are received by Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, who thanks them for their heroic performance. Earlier, the president jokes about getting Hiddink Russian citizenship.
11 October 2008: The visit to Germany, Russia main rivals for automatic World Cup qualification, ends in a 2-1 defeat after several chances are missed in Dortmund.
11 February 2009: Hiddink starts a three-month spell as Chelsea FC manager, as a favour to Roman Abramovich. His charges get to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals and lift the FA Cup.
18 November 2009: Russia, group runners-up, succumb to Slovenia in the play-offs and miss out on World Cup qualification. On the plane back from Ljubljana to Moscow, the players plead with Hiddink to stay.
13 February 2010: In his column in the De Telegraaf newspaper, Hiddink says he will quit Russia when his contract expires on 30 June.
18 February 2010: Hiddink signs a two-year deal to coach Turkey from 1 August.
3 March 2010: Hiddink's Russia swansong finishes 1-1 in Hungary.
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