Two assists, one brilliantly taken goal and his team in the semi-finals of Euro 2008. All in an evening’s work for Andrei Arshavin. Russian football has a new hero and the European game has a genuine superstar in the making.
As Russia’s players rushed to celebrate with Dmitri Torbinsky after he had scored his side’s second goal, Arshavin, the creator, walked gently back to the centre circle, his work seemingly done. And yet he was not done, ghosting past Andre Oijer to fire Russia’s third goal in the final minute.
In the first half Russia had stretched and tested Holland in a way no other team had this tournament. As early as the eighth minute Roman Pavlyuchenko rose in the considerable gap in between Andre Ooijer and Joris Mathijsen but headed over.
The clever prompting of Arshavin and the darting forward runs of Konstantin Zyryanov and Ivan Saenko caused Holland problems.
Only a succession of saves by Edwin Van Sar suggested that Russia might live to regret the goalless state of affairs at half-time. Yet the breakthrough came early in the second half. Sergei Semak, played in by – guess who? – Arshavin, crossed for Roman Pavlyuchenko to volley home.
For the first time in the tournament, Holland had to chase the game. Gone were the sweeping counter-attacks that had blown the cobwebs from the creaking Italian and French defences. Instead, Marco Van Basten’s men had to play their way through the massed Russian ranks.
Holland finally found a way back with Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s equaliser in the 86th minute. But the Dutch had no answer to Arshavin’s brilliance in extra time.
So farewell then, Holland. The Dutch took over Basle last night. Half of the country seemed to be here and they were an incredible sight. On Friday night in Vienna Croatia’s fans were the loudest I’ve witnessed at the tournament (until the 121st minute, at least). But the Dutch are by far the most colourful – and the best natured.
It’s hard not to be charmed by the orange masses, even if they did invade the tranquillity of my empty train carriage for the last leg of my journey from Zurich to Basle. At least 120,000 Dutch are estimated to have made the short weekend trip over from Holland. Most of them seemed to be in my carriage. But we will miss them now they are gone.
So much for games getting less exciting in the group stages as defensive anxiety sets in. Friday night’s extraordinary game in Vienna was shaping up as the worst of the tournament so far, until the final two minutes. It will now be remembered as one of the best games of the tournament, and not the stinker it was for 119 minutes.
There was also panic in the press box as the match took its dramatic last-minute twists. In the space of a minute, the story changed from Ivan Klasnic, kidney transplant patient and Croatia goal hero, to Turkey’s third amazing comeback of the tournament.
Tournaments like are a great chance to catch up with people, and Euro 2008 is no exception. In addition to our reporting team of Keir Radnedge, Nick Bidwell, Paddy Agnew and myself, many of our correspondents are here. I’ve just met our man from Bulgaria, Rumen Paytashev, for the first time after years of communicating by phone and email. He’s here along with our guys from, among others, Serbia, Poland, Turkey, Sweden, Moldova, Estonia, Austria and Croatia. Small world.