I checked in to my hotel in Paris having returned from a three day trip to Spain and switched on the Tv to find that the stars of Euro '08 were fifteen minutes into hosting the Welsh for this one. Before I could get over the excitement of having the chance to once again witness the free flowing Hiddink boys in action, Semak fouled Gareth Bale quite stupidly in the area to concede a penalty (BBC in its live text updates described the foul as 'clattered' I discovered later...not true).
Bale tried to slot it into the corner but kept the hight confortable enough for the keeper who dived to his right and saved. Akinfeyeev has to be amongst the best keepers in the wrold and based on what I have seen of goalkeepers in the last few months, at present I rate him second only to the great Iker Casillas. Given that he is young and has a long career ahead, I completely expect him to be seen at a big spending club in the more prominent leagues of Europe in the next few seasons.
With the commentary in German, it was difficult to identify all the players at all the times and without internet access till after the final whistle, I was left with no knowledge of the Welsh team. Not that it mattered...till half time at least.
Russia were soon back on track and the Welsh conceded a penatly immediately afterwards replicating almost precisely the Russian effort. And up stepped Pavulychenko...he of Spurs and did the job. It wasn't the greatest penalty ever and a more fortunate goalkeeper would have stopped it. But he didn't and Russia were in the lead.
For the next twenty minutes or so, till the half ended, one struggled to spot the ball at Welsh feet. The Russian magic was back and the familiar faces of the Euro semi-finalists were doing the thing. But while they dominated completely, they did not score for two reasons - Wales kept their shape and defended well and for large periods the Russians seemed happy to dominate feeling almost secure about the fact that they would get a second whenever they needed it.
At half-time I started freshening myself up after a tiring day of travel and almost assured of a Russian win myself, turned three fourths of the eye away from the telly. The game seemed to have gone off the boil as well and though Wales seemed more determined and the Russians less so, there seemed to be no danger of a upset.
Until we got to see an absolutely atrocius piece of defending. I'm not quite sure who the three Russians were on the left corner of the box...maybe Anyukov, Semak and one more but they did nothing as Bale took the ball went through them almost to the by-line. They stood and watched. And then as Bale crossed, I am not sure who the two or three Russians were who stood and watched Joe Ledley prod the equalizer.
And while this did wake the Russians up, they struggled to find the rythm of the first half. Their winner came late through a brilliant lobbed cross from the left from Arshavin which should have been headed home by Zyrianov. He found the keeper but Russia were fortunate enough that it fell to Pogrebnyak, brought in as a sub for the off color Semak and he scored. 2-1 at full time and heavy weather in wet weather made of the exercise by the Russians.
Some thoughts...Pavulychenko showed that his Euro display was clearly true to his real self. He's a guy who will get into great positions and miss many. And then he will once in a while create space and produce astonishing shots on goal (and still miss). I think he could be great with Spurs and create a lot of trouble to the opposition though he may depend on form for goals. Modric to create, Pav to be there to exploit the situation and force the save and if Bent can be ready to pounce, Berba may be a happy but not necessarily missed memory at WHL.
Arshavin, priced out of the transfer market thanks to his own success, perhaps now is convinced that he is a star. Make no mistake, he indeed is one. So much of what is dangerous in Russian attacks comes from this guy. Before he crossed for the goal, there was another exquisite lob for Pavulychenko who had he been in the Germany Finland game, would have scored. The problem it seemed was that he was either trusting his team mates too little or over estimating his own ball skills, contriving to give away the ball while trying to take on defenders when not needed.
And Guus...the brilliant Guus. Like Wenger a champion of flowing attractive football. True, twice in the Euro and in the second half here, his team went off the boil, but he can get them to entertain is without a question. And while Wenger is happy moulding players into the style he wants, Guus does it with players already moulded into different styles and gets them to play his way. Saw it with Holland in '98, saw it with PSV when they made the semis of the CL a few years back and seeing it now with Russia. Billionaire owners take note of Guus, he is the guy who can make your superstars play the beautiful game. Guus take note of billionaire owners, they may turn you from the semi final man into the Gold winner.