SH! Russian superstar Andrei Arshavin celebrates after scoring the third goal against the Netherlands during their Euro 2008 Championship quarterfinal at St. Jakob-Park in Basel on Saturday.Photo: AFP
According to his club manager, Dick Advocaat, this was the night Zenit Saint Petersburg forward Andrei Arshavin could convince someone in the big leagues of Europe they should sign the 27-year-old.
'He told us he wants to change clubs,' the Dutchman said, before wryly adding that while there were no offers 'at present, the situation may well change after the game against Holland for the national side'.
Well, if Advocaat hoped to oil a quick and profitable fire sale by geeing his player up, it did the trick. Against a muted but not impotent Holland, Arshavin was his side's pivotal player throughout most of the evening through his willingness to take possession, direct teammates and insist on shaping proceedings and capping things off with the third goal.
Earlier, during what has been a fine tournament so far, Guus Hiddink was asked if Arshavin would return for Russia's crucial final group game after missing the previous two because of suspension. The Russia head coach offered an ambivalent response. But, having included him in his squad knowing he might get only the single run-out, it was a question that hardly needed asking. Back Arshavin came against Sweden in Innsbruck to produce a man-of-the-match performance that included the decisive goal in Russia's 2- 0 victory.
Early on Arshavin, playing off strike partner Roman Pavlyu-chenko, won a series of free-kicks by dropping into the hole, receiving and drawing the foul. Looking from a distance like Nick Barmby and standing only 5ft 7in, Arshavin plays in similar darting bursts to the former Liverpool and England midfielder. But where the Russian differs is in a willingness to try the odd dribble. One telling run last night came from his position between the Dutch defence and midfield after eight minutes when he shrugged off the formidably sized Orlando Engelaar before flipping a pass out to Ivan Saenko on the right. After 27 minutes Arshavin again clashed with Englelaar, but this attempt ended with a pass straight out.
Throughout the match, Russia shaded possession and mounted the far greater attacks on Edwin van der Sar's goal , thanks in the main to Arshavin's prompting. One came from a fine moment of individual skill. After his team broke quickly from a Dutch attack, Arshavin was found by Konstantin Zyryanov in the inside left channel. A run and twin body swerves opened up Andre Ooijer before Arshavin's curled shot needed a superb save from Van der Sar. The two same players combined minutes later when, after Zyryanov's reverse pass found Arshavin in a position a little farther wide on the left, he proved he can use that same foot with a cross that required a teammate to make a late run inside the Dutch area.
Within 10 minutes of the restart Russia had the lead through Pavlyuchenko. The chance that created the goal did not, for once, feature Arshavin, but it again followed him forcing the game at Holland. First he might have had a penalty when a burst into the area had him bundled over. Referee Lubos Michel said no to that one and Arshavin was then unlucky with a bending free-kick from a difficult angle out wide on the left that flirted with Van der Sar's post.
Arshavin's disappointed shake of the head 10 minutes from time again came because teammates - in common with the opposition for most of the evening - had not kept pace. This time, his run down the left had the Dutch defence back-pedalling until he had travelled from near half-way to inside their area. Once more, he delivered a difficult ball that zipped across Van der Sar's goal. But once more the little man had no support.
Arshavin was a key member of the side who won Zenit their first Uefa Cup in May, creating the opening goal in another 2-0 win - this time over Rangers. He also helped the club to the league title in 2007 - their first since 194 and the Soviet League days.
If Arshavin does leave Russia and Zenit - and it seems now more than likely - there are thought to be a host of clubs from Italy, Spain, France, Germany and England interested. In the Premier League, Arsenal are thought to be interested and there has even been talk of him moving to Barcelona. There will probably be a lot more interest after a display that must have taken Arshavin's value to around the £12 million mark. Advocaat may well be smiling over the next few weeks.