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[Euro 2008] ‘Houdini’ Hiddink Works Magic With Russia

Posted June. 24, 2008 03:12,   


When Guus Hiddink takes the helm of a national soccer team, be it Dutch, Korean or Australian, he always brings out the best from the players.

His latest achievement is catapulting Russia from a soccer doormat to a semifinalist of Euro 2008.

Hiddink stresses principles when leading a team, something that led Korea to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup, an unprecedented victory for the team.

○ Moral support

When the 62-year-old coach took over the Russian team in July 2006, he sent home Sergei Ignashevich, a habitual latecomer to practice, saying his players must be on time.

The outstanding Alexander Kerzhakov was also excluded from the team for his laziness. Instead, Hiddink invited many newcomers including Dmitri Torbinsky, who scored the go-ahead goal in the 3-1 quarterfinal win over the Netherlands Saturday.

Hiddink has an uncanny knack to captivate and win over his players. Before the 2002 World Cup, he would encourage Korean players by saying their team would surprise the world. When Korea advanced to the quarterfinals, he further boosted morale with creative figures of speech such as “I’m hungry for more.”

He has used similar tactics with Russia. The Dutchman has constantly said he is proud of his team and that if beating the Dutch team is akin to being a traitor, so be it.

Russia’s top scorer Ivan Saenko said, “Coach Hiddink always emphasizes that we can defeat any team.” Andrei Arshavin, often called the “Park Ji-sung of Russia,” said, “Coach Hiddink is someone I can rely on. He is the true winner of this tournament.”

○ Strong physical fundamentals

When Hiddink led the Korean team back in 2001, he told Lee Yong-soo, who was then chairman of the Korea Football Association’s technical committee, that the biggest problem with the team is weak physical fundamentals.

Since Lee said Korea’s strength lay in solid physical fundamentals and determination, he disagreed. Lee, however, had to eat his words after the coach showed him a video in which players began to tire 10 minutes after the game began. This led to a focus on strengthening physical stamina, something that helped Korea go to the quarterfinals.

Hiddink says building strong physical fundamentals is the starting point of soccer training. Therefore, he took the Russian team to a workout camp in Germany from the end of May ahead of Euro 2008 to implement the “power training” program he used in Korea.

The coach conducted power training twice a day while switching the intensity every three days between “intensive” and “less intensive.” No wonder the Russians put up a strong fight against the Dutch until the very last minute of extended time.

○ Soccer wizard

When Russia lost 4-1 in its first Euro group match to Spain, Hiddink replaced Roman Shirokov and Dmitri Sychev with Sergei Ignashevich and Torbinsky in the game against Greece.

The coach also fortified the midfield by placing as the shadow striker Arshavin, who missed the first two games of the competition for getting a red card in a qualifier. Hiddink’s changes in tactics resulted in a 1-0 win over Greece and a 2-0 victory over Sweden to advance Russia to the knockout stage.

Hiddink knows what tactics to use depending on the opponent and drills his players in basic physical fundamentals and techniques depending on the other team. He has gained so much trust in Russia that Russians even say to follow whatever Hiddink says as a guarantee of success. Russians have even suggested giving Hiddink Russian citizenship.

The next test for Hiddink and Russia is Spain in the semifinals Friday.