Russia coach Guus Hiddink believes the pride his side can take from a series of impressive performances at UEFA EURO 2008™ should serve them well for the challenges that lie ahead – starting with 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying.
The 61-year-old coach expertly guided his squad to victories against Greece, Sweden and the Netherlands to set up a semi-final meeting with Spain in Vienna and, although Russia fell short at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion as second-half strikes from Xavi Hernández, Daniel Güiza and David Silva ended their European adventure, Hiddink pointed out that pride should eventually be the dominant emotion. "For us it's the end of the tournament and disappointment is in our heads tonight," the Dutchman said. "When our emotions have calmed down we will be able to say we are very proud at not just our results but at the way the boys have played in this tournament. I don't want to look for excuses but it shows we're short in the depth of Russian players we have."
The disappointment will be particularly acute for Hiddink, who had previously suffered semi-final defeats with the Netherlands in the 1998 World Cup and the Korea Republic four years later. Yet, in a fulsome tribute to the victors, he admitted his players had been found wanting when it mattered most. "Big teams know how to use their experience, and the longer a game goes on they know they have better qualities. It was new for Korea and it's new for Russia. If you can keep the score at 0-0 then it's OK but when you go 1-0 down, if you don't get an equaliser within ten or 15 minutes you have to open up, which makes it difficult to catch an experienced team."
'Relax a bit'
Russia opened the finals with a 4-1 loss against the same opponents and few would have banked on them making the last four on the back of that display. Hiddink revived his team with tough closed-door training sessions aimed at provoking the right response from his players, and acknowledges that once again the response from the youngest squad at these finals will be critical. "I'm confident after the way we've played but first we're going to relax a bit and then focus in September on what will be a difficult [World Cup] qualification group which includes Germany," he explained. "The first concern is that the boys need to relax a bit, as their league restarts soon. The squad can learn a lot from this tournament and it should be beneficial in qualifying."
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