Guus Hiddink's gamble of taking the previously suspended Andrey Arshavin to UEFA EURO 2008 paid off in spectacular fashion with the forward putting in a fine performance as Russia downed Sweden 2-0 to set up a Basel quarter-final against the Netherlands.
The FC Zenit St Petersburg player was a constant menace to a Sweden side requiring only a draw to stay above their opponents on goal difference, scoring Russia's second goal and striking the post in the second half. If Arshavin showed what Russia had been missing in their first two games, his team-mates displayed class of their own when a fine move resulted in Roman Pavlyuchenko's breakthrough strike after 24 minutes in Innsbruck.
With much of the talk in the build-up to the Group D decider centring around Arshavin and Zlatan Ibrahimović, the news that both were starting came as something of a surprise. Hiddink had hinted that Arshavin was not match fit while the condition of Ibrahimović's knee meant the target man was a doubt until the last minute. The Russia coach was at least true to his promise that his side would chase victory from the off.
Arshavin's pass into the middle of the Sweden area saw Igor Semshov and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov collide with the goal at their mercy, although Lars Lagerbäck's men threatened in return soon after. Anders Svensson's cross found Ibrahimović, only for the No10's downward header to be collected by Igor Akinfeev with Henrik Larsson lurking.
Arshavin and Bilyaletdinov missed chances as the quarter-hour approached before the former sent in a cross-shot that goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson tipped over. From Konstantin Zyryanov's corner, Yuri Zhirkov's thunderous shot zipped just wide. Then Russia's moment arrived.
Arshavin released Zyryanov down the right and the midfielder in turn found Aleksandr Anyukov's run inside the box. The right-back rolled a pass to Pavlyuchenko and the tall striker calmly finished for his second goal of the finals. Sweden almost levelled moments later but Larsson's clever header from a Mikael Nilsson cross bounced back off the bar. At the other end, Pavlyuchenko's next effort struck an upright after another slick interchange involving Arshavin and Bilyaletdinov.
Five minutes after the break and Russia had their second goal. Makeshift left-back Zhirkov found himself racing away from the Sweden defence before he crossed for the returning hero – on the run, Arshavin had no problem directing the ball past Isaksson's right hand.
Sweden were rocked and although their players began to react in the final third of the pitch, the best they could manage was an Olof Mellberg header that flew harmlessly over Akinfeev's crossbar. It was turning into the Andrei Arshavin show and after the little maestro was booked for upending substitute Kim Källström, he was almost through on goal again but was finally outmuscled by Fredrik Stoor.
With the contest entering its closing stages, Russia should have enhanced their advantage as their enterprising attacking play produced several late chances. Zyryanov went close when his deflected attempt came back off the post before Pavlyuchenko spurned two great opportunities – first heading straight into the grateful hands of Isaksson, then mis-hitting a shot with only the goalkeeper to beat. No matter: the 2-0 scoreline was enough for them to overhaul Sweden by three points and finish second behind Spain.