The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Andrei Arshavin is already 27. Did you realize that? That’s just two years younger than Henry when he transferred to Purgatory and Shevchenko when he transferred to his little three-legged stool behind the Chelsea bench. I’ve enjoyed watching Arshavin as much as everyone else during the two games he’s played at Euro 2008, but I wonder if we’re getting slightly ahead of ourselves to declare that a 27-year-old who’s spent his entire career below the Richter scale in St. Petersburg (averaging just under six goals a season, for what that’s worth) is the second coming of Cesc Fabregas.
I commit this act of disparagement because I’m afraid that the image of Arshavin as Russia’s feline savior and the future king of the Premier League is keeping his coach from getting the appreciation he deserves. I want to say that Guus Hiddink’s gameplan in the match against Holland yesterday was the greatest thing I’ve seen from Euro 2008 so far, which is probably not true, but at least is saying something. Hiddink’s tactics were perfectly chosen for the occasion. He pushed his fullbacks forward at every opportunity, daring van Bronckhorst and Boulahrouz to stop them (they couldn’t) and forcing van Basten to adjust (he never did). He kept the midfield tight enough to shore up defensive gaps, and allowed Arshavin as second striker to drop back and bring an element of versatility to the middle of the pitch. It was the perfect way to find shots for a team that can’t yet be counted on to capitalize on its opportunities, and the perfect way to frustrate a more technically talented Holland side that never really had an answer for Russia’s ability to keep them off the counterattack.
Even naming Arshavin to the team was a shrewd piece of checkers from Hiddink—voices questioned the wisdom of giving a roster spot to a player who was suspended for the first two games of the tournament. But the portly wizard’s wizardry goes well beyond the sparkle of Arshavin. As Ursus pointed out in a comment, he seems to have taught his team Dutch football by evoking Soviet hockey. It’s a surprisingly bright, spacious, Rickenbacker-Beatles style of play, the best thing about which may not even be that it works.
by Brian Phillips · June 22, 2008