Russia face Greece in Euro-2008 crunch game
Down but not out: Russia go into their Group D match with Greece still alive but knowing things have to improve. The 4-1 loss to Spain saw Guus Hiddink's side punished for what the coach himself called “schoolboy-like defending” – something the Dutchman's been working hard on to put right.
“We've had some team meetings. We've had some open and closed sessions to discuss this once more and to practise this. But learning in football is not that easy in a short time,” he said.
But it’s not just at the back that Hiddink has problems. He’s already missing key players Arshavin and Pogrebnyak. Now a thigh strain threatens to keep hitman Pavlyuchenko out of the game with Greece. That would leave Russia turning to their fourth-choice striker to score the goals they need to keep their Euro hopes alive.
Hiddink is all too aware of the Russia’s precarious position.
“The day of reality is going to be tomorrow when two outsiders, let's be honest and face the facts, two outsiders will clash. The one who is luckier, or better, has the chance to get into the next round,” he said.
Despite the problems, Russia will be quietly confident that they can turn over a Greek side that also lost their opening game. Saturday's match is in effect a case of winner takes all while the loser goes out.
With so much at stake and with both sides desperate not to loose, nobody’s expecting a classic. But that might not be the case, Hiddink says his team know only one way of playing – and that's to attack.
The fans believe their attack-minded team can turn things around.
“As for the fans, we are always willing to believe. We are Russians, we will hope until the end, no matter what,” one supporter said.
That hope could be rewarded in Salzburg if Russia can get its attacking game in gear and avoid defensive slip-ups. A win against Greece will put the team right back in contention at Euro 2008.