"I want to be the traitor of the year in Holland," joked Guus Hiddink. For on Saturday evening in Basel, Russia's Dutch coach will attempt to beat the Netherlands in the UEFA EURO 2008™ quarter-finals.
The Netherlands sailed through the group stage with three wins and nine goals in Berne, while Russia, having lost their opener 4-1 to Spain, needed a last-day 2-0 defeat of Sweden to reach the last eight. That game was only on Wednesday, while the Oranje beat Romania by the same score the night before – when they were able to rest almost all their regular starters, having already clinched Group C. Despite laughing about knocking out the land of his birth, however, the man who led the Netherlands to the 1998 FIFA World Cup semi-finals knows Marco van Basten's squad have the ability to advance themselves against opponents playing in their first major knockout phase since the end of the Soviet Union.
"The Netherlands are far ahead in experience, in how to play a tournament," Hiddink said, although the 61-year-old also emphasised that his attacking style would not change. "I am scared as well, that's why I have to attack – if you drop back, you get even more scared. In recent months and weeks in Russia, we have tried to install the sort of play people love to watch. For Holland it is a brand, for Russia we had to impose it but we are on our way."
Hiddink has a full-strength team to pick from in the first competitive game between the Netherlands and an independent Russia, including forward Andrei Arshavin who returned from a two-match ban with a goal against Sweden. The talisman, though, is a booking away from another suspension. The Netherlands also have come through their injury problems, with Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben starting against Romania and showing no ill-effects, giving the hero of the 1988 final victory over the USSR a wealth of options. Defender Khalid Boulahrouz has made himself available despite the death of his prematurely-born baby daughter. The Oranje will wear black armbands.
Reflecting on his side's campaign, Van Basten said: "We are satisfied up to now. But it is only the beginning and we have to play a few more games hopefully. We saw Russia play very well against Sweden but we also saw the matches against Greece and Spain. So it is our task to play like the Spain team did. [Russia] had problems with [Fernando] Torres and [David] Villa. But then they changed a few players and became a better team, so that is what we are expecting."
The former striker, who was encouraged to go into coaching by Hiddink when the latter was in charge of the Netherlands, noted his compatriot's vow to press forward, and mused: "I wish him good luck. These are two teams who try to attack. We have the same idea so we will see who is stronger." But Van Basten, who masterminded a 4-1 friendly win against Hiddink's Russia in February 2007, is not thinking of a certain encounter and goal in 1988. "That's a long time ago. Doesn't help me now."
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