Russia would prefer to play Italy than Spain

Russia coach Guus Hiddink would have preferred his young, attacking team be playing world champion Italy in the European Championship semifinals instead of Spain. 

"I watched (the Spain-Italy quarterfinal) and you think, I'd really like the Italians because tactically you can work against them. It is a team where lots of people stay in one place behind the ball, but that leaves space elsewhere where you can play," he said after the team's first training session since beating the Netherlands 3-1 after extra time in Saturday's quarterfinals.

"It didn't happen, that's a shame. Spain is a similar team to Russia - they want to play football. But if they go 1-0 up, as we've seen, they drop back and play on the counterattack." 

Russia got a good look at how well Spain can play on the counterattack in its first Euro 2008 match, when David Villa scored a hat trick as Luis Aragones' team cruised to a 4-1 victory. 

Hiddink criticized his players for making schoolboy errors in that match - in particular, giving the ball away easily and then failing to fight to get it back. 

The young team certainly took notice. Since the thrashing in Innsbruck, it has conceded only one goal in three matches - and that was to the Netherlands which had scored nine times in its first three games.

Hiddink has slight injury worries, with midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, forward Ivan Sayenko and Alexander Anyukov all carrying minor injuries from the quarterfinals. Hiddink did not elaborate on their conditions. Bilyaletdinov and Anyukov did some light running at training, while Sayenko trained but finished earlier than the rest of the squad.

While they may be fit for Thursday's semifinal match in Vienna, Hiddink will have to pick a team without central defender Denis Kolodin and attacking midfielder Dmitry Torbinski, who are both suspended after picking up their second yellow cards of the tournament against the Netherlands.

Torbinski stood out by scoring a goal in extra time after a floating cross from Andrei Arshavin against the Netherlands to give Russia a lead it never relinquished.

Kolodin had a torrid time against Fernando Torres and Villa in Russia's first game against Spain. But since then he has returned to form and been a key defender for Russia in its last three matches. As he gained in confidence against the Dutch, Kolodin also pushed forward and unleashed a series of powerful long-range shots on Edwin van der Sar's goal. 

He was lucky to stay on the pitch against the Netherlands. Referee Lubos Michel showed him a second yellow card of the match just before fulltime for a clumsy tackle on Wesley Sneijder, but the linesman had already flagged that the ball was out of play before the challenge and the card was rescinded. 

One possible replacement for Kolodin would be Roman Shirokov. However, he played so badly in the first game against Spain that Hiddink dropped him and he has not played since. That leaves Vasily Berezutsky as favorite to start in central defense alongside CSKA Moscow teammate Sergei Ignashevich.

Hiddink said his team would put in a very different performance in the semifinals than in its first match. 

That is in no small part thanks to attacking midfielder Andrei Arshavin, who was serving a suspension for the first two Euro 2008 matches but has returned with two goals and two man-of-the-match performances since returning. 

The way Arshavin has stamped his authority on Russia's games is no surprise to Hiddink. 

"We knew this player, we had him in the qualification," he said. 

Hiddink said Arshavin also came up with big plays in key matches as Russia qualified. 

"He was part of that and he did the same now," he said. "It's not a surprise for me." 

As he has throughout this tournament, Hiddink insisted Russia's opponent is favorite, but said he could not foresee the result. 

"We both like to play, so I can't make any predictions," he said.

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Author`s name Anton Kulikov