Russia and Spain vie for place in Euro-2008 final
The second semi-final of Euro-2008 has kicked off in Vienna. Russia and Spain are battling it out for the right to play Germany in Sunday’s final. Thousands of Russian fans are in Austria for the sell-out game. Millions
Guus Hiddink’s team will need to be at their best to beat Spain. The much-fancied Spaniards hammered them 4-1 in the group stages and have looked strong throughout the tournament.
But past form won’t worry Russia. They’ve grown from strength to strength as the competition has progressed. The stunning quarter-final win against the Netherlands has led many commentators to tip them as eventual winners. The return of key playmaker Andrey Arshavin has given the team a new confidence and bite in attack.
In Austria and Switzerland the team's surprising success has captured the public imagination. Everywhere you go people are warming to Guus Hiddink and his young Russian squad.
Go into any sporting goods shop in Vienna and there’s no shortage of merchandise for Spain or Germany. But try getting hold of a Russia shirt. No chance – they’re all sold out.
And it’s not just the fans who’ve taken a liking to Russia. Most sports journalists came into the tournament giving Russia little chance. But that’s changed. They’re now saying the Russians are the team to beat.
“The best team we’ve seen so far. It’s as simple as that. They’re a huge surprise,” said Paddy Agnew, Italian football correspondent.