Russia goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev has credited coach Dick Advocaat for turning a side that failed to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup into a team that looks capable of going far at UEFA EURO 2012.
The Group A leaders missed the chance to become the first team through to the quarter-finals when Jakub Błaszczykowski earned co-hosts Poland a 1-1 draw in Warsaw on Tuesday, but they were hugely impressive during their 4-1 defeat of the Czech Republic in their opening encounter. That win was reminiscent of their performances at UEFA EURO 2008, when they reached the semi-finals, and although that campaign was led by Guus Hiddink, his fellow Dutchman is now making a big impact too.
"I think he has a lot of qualities, and he shows them at the right moments and therefore gets results," said Malafeev, who did superbly to deny Sebastian Boenisch from close range against Poland. "I think he really knows what he is doing; he has a lot of experience, and he knows every player that's available to him. He has faith in his players, as he always tells us."
Although Advocaat will end his two-year stint after the tournament to return to PSV Eindhoven, he clearly has an affinity for the Russian game, having led Malafeev and Co to UEFA Cup glory with FC Zenit St Petersburg in 2007/08.
"When he was coaching Zenit, we played against various teams in the Russian league, so he knows all the players well," added Malafeev. "He never had any problems adapting to players or managing them. He then created a certain playing strategy which we've been using for the past two years, and which we try to better with each game."
The 33-year-old is also grateful to Advocaat for having picked him to start between the posts in Poland and Ukraine, there having been plenty of debate in the build-up as to who should wear the gloves. Previous first-choice custodian Igor Akinfeev has battled back from a cruciate knee ligament injury this season, but it was Malafeev who finally got the nod.
"There was a lot of talk about that," said Malafeev, who has battled his way back from adversity after losing his wife in a car accident last March. "The media and the fans were discussing it. When it came to Igor and myself, we were kept in the dark until the last moment as to which one of us would be playing because the coach had given nothing away – not during training, and also not while talking to us."
Despite that uncertainty, the player capped 27 times by his country feels right at home in the Russia squad, and not least because he is one of seven players who ended the 2011/12 domestic campaign at Zenit. "Obviously that helps," he said. "We know each other's qualities, and know where we'll all be on the pitch.
"On the other hand, the defence consists of non-Zenit players, so we have to make arrangements before the game about what we'll do on the pitch. Most importantly, we're all professionals, so we have no problem discussing how we'll tackle it. We just go out and play. These guys have played together for a while now, and also with the national team, so we have a mutual understanding."
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