We waited for you in Gorky Park, but you did not show up. So we went to Euro 2008. Sorry we spanked you. And it must be difficult accepting defeat since our coach is Dutch. Nevertheless, we invite you back to Gorky Park to celebrate with our beautiful Russian tennis players and vodka. No hard feelings?
Yesterday Turkey quarantined Croatia and blazed into the quarter finals.
Today, it was Russia who totaled the Netherlands aspirations of winning the Euro football title by crushing the Oranje 3-1.
While the game wasn’t the scintillating affair some hoped for, on this night Russia clearly wanted it more. They proved that they’re capable of not only playing with Dutch-like flair (for example, penetrating off the wings effectively and finding ways to distribute the ball in tight spaces) but that they can infuse offensive abilities with solid, stingy defense.
Not that anyone should be overly surprised. Russia (including the former Soviet Union) has a rich soccer pedigree at the European Championships.
Though the Soviet Union was known for its Olympic accomplishments (including two gold medals and three bronzes in soccer), the former USSR also managed to conquer the inaugural European tournament in 1960 on a bedrock of solid defense and goal tending.
Following their triumph in 1960, the Soviets remained a respected and competitive side and were finalists in 1964, 1972 and 1988 – losing to Spain, West Germany and the Netherlands respectively.
All told the Soviet Union reached the finals on four occasions – second only to Germany’s five appearances in the finals.
In addition to the European Championships a string of successes came at both the Olympics and World Cup.
However, accomplishments at the EC never translated into a World Cup title. Nonetheless, the Soviet Union had consistently qualified for the finals and recorded a string of notable achievements with three quarter-finals appearances in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and a semi-finals placing in 1966.
It’s no coincidence that the Soviet Union’s greatest epoch in the 1950s and 1960s came while the legendary Lev “The Black Panther” Yashin kept goal and players like Eduard Streltsov (the Russian Pelé) and later in the 1970s Oleg Blokhin graced the green grasses (most of the time anyway) of Russia.
The last time they would enter a major competition as the Soviet Union was at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. The dissolution of the Soviet Union fragmented an entire empire and inevitably put an end to Soviet soccer as we knew it.
In 1994 and 2002 Russia unceremoniously came back to the World Cup stage and failed to impress and ultimately progress. But with renewed vigor and with Guus Hiddink at the helm as coach, they qualified for Euro 2008.
Coming into the tournament some wondered if Zenti’s impressive UEFA Cup title run would translate into strong play for the national side. It didn’t look as though this was going to be the case after falling to Spain in the opening game 4-1.
Back to back wins over Greece and Sweden set the team back on its proper course and it finally looked like the “Zenit affect” had taken root.
Just qualifying for the next round at Euro 2008 would have signified the return of Russian soccer.
Instead, like Turkey before them, the Russians can now hope for glory. Something they haven’t tasted in 48 years.