The Netherlands all but secured their passage into the semi finals after demolishing Russia 5-1. The score was only 1-0 before Chicherin was sent off for the Russians, but the Dutch were still comfortably on top when it was 11 versus 11. Here are five quick observations…
Netherlands (4-2-3-1): Zoet; Rhijn, Vrij, Indi, Blind; Ginkel, Strootman; Wijnaldum, Maher, John; De Jong
Russia (4-2-3-1): Zabolotny; Chicherin, Burlak, Belyayev, Schennikov; Petrov, Tsallagov; Shatov, Dzagoev, Yakovlev; Smolov
Russia change shape
Russia changed shape their from the first game where they were a 4-1-4-1 formation. Tonight they were a more attacking 4-2-3-1 in order to incorporate the talented Alan Dzagoev in the hole. Rather than defend as a flat 4-5-1 though, Russia kept their wingers, and Dzagoev, higher up than their two central midfielders. In defensive situations, lone striker Fedor Smolov split between the two centre backs, Dzagoev pushed up onto the deepest Dutch midfielder, and the two Russian wingers stretched across the pitch and remained relatively tight to their respective full backs, ready to track any forward runs they made (see diagram). One the play enter the Russia half though, the tactic changed and the aim was to sit deep and then counter through Dzagoev with the support of his two wingers and Smolov ahead of him, who made some decent runs into the channels.
The Dutch midfield
The Netherlands fielded the same XI in the same shape except for a slight change in midfield. Kevin Strootman was predominantly the deepest man against Germany, but tonight Marco van Ginkel was instructed to man mark Dzagoev with Strootman given greater attacking licence – this made sense given that Russia are a much weaker outfit than the Germans. Van Ginkel performed his job very well, shadowing the Russian playmaker all over the pitch, and this contributed greatly to Dzagoev failing to have as much of an impact on the game as he would have liked when it was still 11 versus 11. Adam Maher, playing in the hole for the Dutch, was superb against the Germans, but today he was marked very closely by Ibrahim Tsallagov who was told to follow his man all over the pitch, just as he had done with Isco in the first half against Spain, before the Malaga winger moved out wide.
Ola John a threat
Because Maher was less effective today, Ola John was his sides’ biggest threat, and it was no surprise to see that most Dutch attacks took place down the left, where the Benfica winger linked up very well with Daley Blind behind him. John completed five dribbles in his 90 minutes and more than deserved his goal. Overall the Dutch remained very patient in the first half, dominating possession and gently probing the Russia backline without over committing. Eventually they were rewarded when Georgino Wijnaldum tried his luck from range to open the scoring on 38 minutes and from this point on there was only going to be one winner. The opening goal had been coming with Luuk De Jong hitting the post with a free header from a corner just minutes before.
Red card ends the contest
On 50 minutes Russia were reduced to 10-men after Nikita Chicherin was sent off for a bad tackle on Maher. Tsallagov moved to the right back slot with Russia changing to a 4-3-2/4-4-1 formation. Credit to Tsallagov though – he was very bold with his positioning when Russia had the ball, playing almost like a wing back, and was constantly bombing up and down that flank in support of his side. De Jong scored a header just after the hour mark following a clever dinked cross from Van Ginkel, after the midfielder made a rare run forward, and it seemed the game was over. However, Russia surprisingly pulled a goal back after Dzagoev had a header hit the post but saw the rebound fall to Denis Cheryshev who finished calmly.
Key players rested
Any chance of a Russia comeback was killed off just minutes later after John got a well-deserved goal with a delicate chip over the Russian goalkeeper, Nikolay Zabolotny. Substitute Danny Hoesen added a fourth with a similar finish to John, with his first touch and then another sub, Leroy Fer, finished the rout in added time. The Dutch were simply different class tonight and would have won comfortably, even if Russia hadn’t gone a man down. Perhaps most importantly, manager Cor Pot was able to rest De Jong, Maher and Strootman, three of his better players, ahead of their last group match against Spain.
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