Euro 2008: Heroes of Russia
With the fickleness of the neutral, this blog has transferred its Euro 2008 allegiance from Holland to Russia. If Holland beat Russia in Saturday's quarter final, we'll return to the Dutch fold and say we never really thought that Russia had a chance.
But in last night's match against Sweden, Russia were a joy to watch, chasing more goals right up to the final whistle.
They also have a tendency to try and play their way through the penalty area, something you rarely see these days. I remember being shouted at by the Games Master at school if I attempted to do this. "When you're inside the box, never dribble, always shoot!" he would scream at me. It was good advice but in today's game dribbling in the box un-nerves your opponents because if they so much as breathe on you, you'll get a penalty (or a 'pen' as they now say on Radio 5 phone-ins).
Although missed chances, including hitting the 'woodwork', mean no more than no chances, the Russians could easily have beaten Sweden 6-0 last night. They're the youngest team in the competition and play with real hunger and enthusiasm and with their confidence now sky-high, Saturday's match against the brilliant Dutch team promises to be well tasty.
There was much rejoicing that Arshavin returned to the team last night and scored one of the goals. Before the game, Andy Townsend told us that Arshavin "plays in the hole", whatever that means. They cut to a live shot of Arshavin warming up on the pitch. Unfortunately he was vigorously tugging at his willie at the time, a gesture that would have been far more satisfyingly apposite by Zhirkov. (The commentators are now carefully pronouncing the first syllable with a 'Z' rather than a 'J' sound).
The picture (top) shows Arshavin in his trademark finger-to-lips pose. It was probably an historically common gesture in Russia, meaning either "Pssst, want to buy some cheap razor blades?" or "Be careful, the bloke on our left looks like KGB."
Also pictured is Roman Pavlyuchenko (try getting your mouth round that when you've had a few vodkas; David Pleat couldn't do it sober last night) who scored the first goal last night - or "opened his account" in commentator speak.
Pavlyuchenko may well become my player of the tournament. Not because he's the most gifted player but because - like Ronaldinho - he always plays with a smile on his face. Not a smug smile of self-satisfaction but a smile that says I'd rather be doing this than anything else in the world, even when my shot hits the crossbar.
Prediction for tonight's Germany v Portugal game: if Germany win, Ronaldo will sit on the pitch and cry like a baby. Then he'll remember that if he does go to Real they'll pay him £300,000 a week and he'll feel a little better.
I once drew attention to the fact that Ronaldo was the only player in 'the wall' who puts his hands over his face rather than his genitals. But recently, he's become more ambivalent about which is his most precious feature and he now puts one hand over his face and the other hand over the organ which - if the tabloids are to be believed - is such a rich source of earning power to "ladies of the night" (allegedly). If Ronaldo's agent has insured those twisting spaghetti legs for millions of pounds, perhaps the Manchester sex industry has taken out a hefty insurance policy on his cock.
Having uncharacteristically descended into the gutter of tabloid tittle-tattle, I must also mention the curious allegation that the so-called greatest player in the world has a preference for ladies wearing Tesco knickers. Can this really be true? Does he inspect the labels before going for goal and opening his account?
It gives a whole new meaning to Every Little Helps.
Not to mention: You Shop, We Drop.