(Spartak Moscow’s Roman Pavlyuchenko, reveling in all the good publicity he’s getting in England)
After Germany’s 3-2 defeat of Turkey in the Euro 2008 semis this afternoon, there’s only two matches that matter remaining in a competition the Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone “wishes would go on forever”. Having developed a big crush on the Russian national side, Hattenstone writes, “forget La Liga and the Premier League, it’s about time our sports channels signed a big fat contract with Russia’s premier league and beamed pure quality into our lives.”
As with the best dramas, once you get to grips with the plot you find yourself returning to the beginning to fully appreciate the nuances of character and narrative. So it’s only now that I understand how far they have come by looking back to how woeful they were in the first game, only now that I realise just how significant the loss of the play-maker Andrei Arshavin was in the first couple of games; only now can I share Roman Pavlyuchenko’s joy in his goals having revisited his inept earlier misses.
In the last two games Russia’s team play has been outstanding – look at the series of instant passes and Arshavin’s sliding shot into the corner of the net against Sweden or Pavlyuchenko’s near-post volley against Holland. Russia have been a wonderful discovery for most of us – and, as they have improved, possibly for themselves. There’s Denis Kolodin, the defender who looks like Frank Skinner and shoots like Bruce Rioch, Yuri Zhirkov with his audacious volleys and free-kicks, and of course there’s Arshavin.
The man who pulls silly faces, has a dirty-joke name and guided Zenit St Petersburg to last season’s Russian title is a footballing genius; the only man I’ve seen on a football pitch who can dribble, pout and chat at the same time.