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Hiddink sets a high bar for Russia

Guus Hiddink challenges his Russia players to be bold and make life "very complicated" for Spain when the two teams meet in the Group D opener in Innsbruck.

Gus Hiddink has high hopes that Russia can cause a surprise against Spain
Gus Hiddink has high hopes that Russia can cause a surprise against Spain ©Getty Images

Despite vast experience and having coached both Korea Republic and the Netherlands to FIFA World Cup semi-finals, Guus Hiddink believes the Group D opener between Spain and Russia is the beginning of a tantalising journey of discovery for him.

No fear
The 61-year-old Dutchman is so entranced by the potential of his young Russia team that he wants them to fly at group favourites Spain in an attempt to rock the confidence of Luis Aragonés's elegant but stubborn side. Previewing the fascinating contest, Hiddink, who adds Australia to the list of squads he has made greater than the sum of their parts, admits he is "curious" to see whether Russia can meet his ambitious demands. "I want them to go out and play good football, I want them to make Spain's life very complicated," he said. "I don't want the frightened and timid performances of some previous tournaments."

Immense test
His tactics present a big challenge to Russia's defensive pairing of Roman Shirokov and Denis Kolodin. Shirokov made his debut in March, having switched from midfield, and the latter has never played European football with FC Dinamo Moskva. Now they face the power and guile of Fernando Torres and David Villa, and Hiddink accepts that: "Very few of my players have top-level tournament experience but they've reacted to the hard work I've set them. Our intention is to break the pattern so far where the favourites have always won." With captain Andrei Arshavin suspended and Pavel Pogrebnyak ruled out of the finals by injury, striker Roman Pavlyuchenko carries much responsibility. Hiddink both praised and criticised the 26-year-old from FC Spartak Moskva, saying: "He wasn't in great shape when he joined us but he's made tremendous progress."

Old rivals
Aragonés, meanwhile, looked and sounded equally ebullient as he anticipated recommencing a long-established rivalry. The two men have often done battle at club level and the Spaniard succeeded Hiddink at Valencia CF. Aragonés holds his colleague in high esteem. "Dutch coaches always demand good football but it wouldn't surprise me at all if he plans a tactic to try and shut down Xavi [Hernández] in our midfield," the 69-year-old said. "But this Russia team is very quick on the counterattack so that's why I've emphasised so strongly to my defenders that they must regroup quickly and intelligently when we lose the ball."

World class
Aragonés also revealed that he has one or two surprises planned for his opposite number – "just in case they do manage to man-mark Xavi" – but he also stressed his faith in the FC Barcelona midfielder. "Xavi is in the top three players in the world at what he does," argued Spain's trainer. "He's been phenomenal for me and I have total confidence in him. Xavi can change the tempo and the result of a game all on his own." Aragonés already knows his starting eleven but teased journalists who tried to guess it. "Yes, Villa will take the penalties," he said. "But only if he's picked in the first place! It has been a long wait to start the tournament but we are totally ready and feel no fear."