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Russia mixes it up in victory

Young squad moves on to quarterfinals as it uses brains and style to beat Sweden, 2-0.

June 19, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Russia, playing some of the brightest, most entertaining and inventive soccer seen at Euro 2008, on Wednesday defeated Sweden, 2-0, in Innsbruck, Austria, to clinch a quarterfinal place at the 13th European Championship.

The victory, on goals by Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrei Arshavin, set up an intriguing match Saturday against the Netherlands, the team that Russia's Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, led to the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup in France.

Wednesday marked the end of the tournament's first round, and the other quarterfinals will feature Portugal against Germany today, Croatia against Turkey on Friday and Spain against Italy on Sunday.

The Swedes went into the match needing only a tie to advance to the last eight, but the Russians took the game to them from the start. In addition to the two goals, Hiddink's side also hit the post twice and saw several other shots fly agonizingly wide.

The Soviet Union won the first European Championship, in France in 1960, and was second behind the Netherlands in Germany in 1988, but Wednesday marked the first time Russia had advanced beyond the first round of a major tournament since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The credit goes to Hiddink, who further enhanced his reputation as the world's top national team coach. In addition to taking the Dutch to the World Cup semifinals a decade ago, he repeated the feat with South Korea in 2002, took Australia to the quarterfinals in 2006 and now, against the odds, has Russia in the last eight of Euro 2008.

"We're very proud of what the team has achieved in this tournament, but that's not enough," Hiddink said. "The next goal is the Dutch."

The stylish Russians -- the youngest team in the tournament -- moved the ball around Innsbruck's Tivoli Neu stadium with aplomb, constantly keeping Sweden on the back foot. The closest the Swedes came to scoring was when veteran Henrik Larsson looped a header that clanged off the crossbar.

In addition to Arshavin, the playmaker who led Zenit St. Petersburg to the UEFA Cup in May and appears destined for a big-money move to a larger club, and lanky striker Pavlyuchenko, midfielders Yuri Zhirkov and Konstantin Zyryanov and defender Alexander Anyukov stood out for Russia.

In Wednesday's other match, Spain won its third game in a row, defeating Euro 2004 winner Greece, 2-1, on goals in the last half-hour by Ruben de la Red and Daniel Guiza.

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Jones reported from Los Angeles.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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Match schedule

European Championship quarterfinal matchups. All games start at 11:45 PDT:

TODAY

Portugal vs. Germany at Basel, Switzerland

FRIDAY

Croatia vs. Turkey at Vienna

SATURDAY

Netherlands vs. Russia at Basel, Switzerland

SUNDAY

Spain vs. Italy at Vienna

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Source: Associated Press

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