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All or nothing for Russia against Sweden at Euro 2008

Russia take the field in their final Group D match on Wednesday evening knowing that anything less than victory against a strong Swedish side will see them fail, yet again, to reach the play-offs of a major European tournament.
MOSCOW, June 18 (RIA Novosti) - Russia take the field in their final Group D match on Wednesday evening knowing that anything less than victory against a strong Swedish side will see them fail, yet again, to reach the play-offs of a major European tournament.

The team, led by experienced Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, qualified for Euro 2008 after a rollercoaster qualifying campaign that saw a memorable home victory against England. Hiddink's men arrived at their Austrian base of Leogang a week before the competition kicked off on the back of three consecutive friendly victories, their preparations spoiled only by an injury to star striker Pavel Pogrebnyak.

Pogrebnyak's injury eventually forced him to quit the side's training camp, and Russia, already weakened by playmaker Andrey Arshavin's two-match suspension, were outclassed by Spain in their opening match, going down 4-1. However, despite the defeat and a performance that Hiddink called "defensively naive," Russia at least tried to play an attacking, open game, a marked difference from their ultra-cautious tactics at previous World Cups and European Championships.

Hiddink drafted in experienced CSKA defender Sergei Ignashevich, surprisingly left out of the opening fixture, for the next game, against holders Greece, and the side battled to a 1-0 victory, courtesy of a Konstantin Zyrianov goal in the 33rd minute.

Sweden, meanwhile, having earlier beaten the Greeks 2-0, lost to Spain after an injury time goal from David Villa. Both Sweden and Russia are on three points, but Sweden are ahead thanks to superior goal difference.

"We're happy to have the opportunity to play this decisive game, especially when you see that other teams have gone home already. I'd have preferred the option to go for a draw but it's OK," Hiddink told the press on Tuesday.

Russia will be boosted by the return of Arshavin on Wednesday, although Hiddink has hinted that the Zenit St. Petersburg star may start the game on the bench.

"His presence will definitely lift the team - he is a quality player. It is hard to say what changes the coach will make though," Roman Pavlyuchenko, man-of-the-match against Greece, told a press conference.

The Russian press was full of advice for the national team on Wednesday morning, Sovetski Sport featuring interviews with the country's top ice-hockey players, who recently defeated Sweden at the World Championships in Canada, on "how to beat the Swedes."

There were also calls for the Russian players to recall the early 18th century Battle of Poltava where Russian forces defeated Sweden. The victory is widely considered to have marked the ascent of Imperial Russia. Hiddink, however, in an interview with the Russian press, confessed that he knew nothing of the battle.

Whoever eventually makes it through to the quarter finals will face Hiddink's native Holland. The in-form Dutch coasted through their group games, defeating Italy 3-0, France 4-1, and Romania 2-0. "The Russian vs Sweden game will be like a battle of masochists for the whip," a Russian fan commented on an Internet forum on Wednesday.

Russian ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky has offered to give the team a pep talk before the game, saying that, "The guys need a special psychological boost, a powerful emotional charge that will ensure their desire for victory." Russia's soccer chief has yet to comment on his proposal.

The match kicks off at 8:45 pm local time (10:45 pm Moscow time.) It will be shown live on the national 'Rossiya' channel.

Although Russia have never defeated Sweden, losing three times and drawing twice, both Russian and international bookmakers make Hiddink's side slight favourites to win the decisive tie. If they do so, it will be the first time Russia have made it out of their group at a major tournament since the break up of the Soviet Union.

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