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Spain very wary of Russia

Though they have big-name players, the Spanish try not to fall victim to Hiddink's coaching magic in today's Euro match.

June 10, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Can a Dutch touch turn the Russians into winners, or is everything lined up in favor of the Spaniards today?

That was the question being asked from Moscow to Madrid ahead of today's European Championship soccer match between Russia and Spain at Innsbruck, Austria.

The Spanish have the pedigree players, the big names such as Fernando Torres and Carlos Puyol and David Villa and Cesc Fabregas and . . . the list goes on and on.

The Russians have Guus Hiddink.

The 61-year-old Dutch coach has an enviable track record that includes taking the Netherlands to the World Cup semifinals in 1998 and performing the same feat with South Korea in 2002.

He has been heavily courted by a host of club teams, with huge financial incentives being dangled in front of him by the likes of Chelsea, but he has opted to stay on as Russia's national coach.

His influence troubles the Spanish players, some of whom were on the Spain squad eliminated in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals by Hiddink's South Koreans.

"Having Hiddink as a coach makes a team respectable and dangerous," said Spain's veteran goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, noting also that the Dutchman had coached Real Madrid, Valencia and Real Betis in the Spanish league during the 1990s.

"Obviously, he knows Spanish football well, which could be an advantage," Casillas said, "but as for knowing the players, it's a different era."

Still, teammate Xavi, Spain's influential midfielder, said the Russians will not be an easy opponent.

"They have very fast players up front, good technical players," he told Agence France-Presse. "Their coach knows us well . . . they'll be ready for us."

In Tuesday's other game, in Salzburg, defending champion Greece will play Sweden.

Monday's matches, meanwhile, produced contrasting displays. In Zurich, former champion France, playing without the injured Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, produced a feeble effort and was held to a 0-0 tie by defense-minded Romania.

In Bern, on the other hand, the Netherlands ended a 30-year barren spell by trouncing Italy, 3-0, on goals by Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and Giovanni van Bronckhorst. It was the first Dutch victory over the Italians since the 1978 World Cup semifinals and the worst loss ever for Italy in a European Championship match.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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