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Semak geared for rearguard action

Sergei Semak will captain Russia against Spain and says only a determined defensive performance will give Guus Hiddink's men the Group D start they want.

Guus Hiddink has handed the captain's armbank to Sergei Semak
Guus Hiddink has handed the captain's armbank to Sergei Semak ©Getty Images

The man charged with captaining Russia in their opening UEFA EURO 2008™ match against Spain in Innsbruck on Tuesday, Sergei Semak warns that only a determined defensive performance will give Guus Hiddink's side the Group D start they want.

Defensive game
Hiddink has handed the 32-year-old playmaker the armband in the absence of forward Andrei Arshavin, suspended for the opening two fixtures. And the oldest member of Hiddink's squad is well aware of the threat that Fernando Torres and Co will pose at the Stadion Tivoli Neu as Russia attempt to avoid a repeat of the 1-0 defeat they suffered against Spain in their first game four years ago in Portugal. "We will learn our tactical lineup before the match," Semak said. "However, given that the Spanish love their technical and combination-based style with a lot of ball control, we must play a disciplined and tight defensive game, leaving them as little space as possible."

Hard work
Semak's form for FC Rubin Kazan earned him a recall to the Russia squad on the eve of these finals after two years out of the reckoning, and he is looking forward to seeing the fruits of their work in recent weeks displayed. "This is a new team," he said. "Of course, the coach and the team had to get used to each other. We came through a hard preparation period, but the most important time begins on Tuesday. Then it will be clear how well the team is prepared and how it has improved."

Happy atmosphere
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the separate Russia team have not come through the group stage of any of the four final tournaments in which they have competed. Yet Semak stressed the mood was upbeat. "The atmosphere is fantastic, there is no pressure on us from the outside. Everyone is trying to work the hardest they can in order to display our best football." The listening Hiddink swiftly interjected: "Well said, Sergei. You're in the lineup." Semak continued: "Our players may be young, but they have a lot of experience, because they have played in European competitions and have been through a lot. If a man is well-prepared mentally and physically, he will be confident and will show his best football."