THERE WERE ALMOST more favourites at Euro 2008 than actual participants and, for five blissful days, the Netherlands wore the crown.
Boasting a squad with Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wesley Sneijder, Holland topped a group that included world champions Italy, France and Italy.
On 13 June, the Dutch ran roughshod over France and stuffed four past Gregory Coupet.
With Austria and Switzerland confined to merely hosting duties after the group stages, Europe tuned into Holland’s quarter-final match and barely spared a thought for their Russian opponents.
What followed was a stunning display of one-touch football and lung-busting endeavour by a Russian team with unheralded players such as Yuri Zhirkov and Igor Akinfeev.
Roman Pavlyuchenko netted after 55 minutes but van Nistelrooy equalised in the closing stages.
Guus Hiddink’s side were undeterred and Andrey Arshavin set up Dmitri Torbinski for a back-post header before (see 3:52 in video) scooting by the Dutch defenders and firing through the legs of Edwin van der Saar in the final minutes.
YouTube credit: KhazarLenkoranX
Spain, on the same side of the draw as the victorious Russians, were cancelled out by Italy before winning through on penalties.
Germany were looking ominous but many pundits predicted that Russia could carry their form all the way to a final win.
The dream, or delusion, lasted 50 minutes in the semi-final when Xavi netted for a Spanish team that would eventually win 3-0.
Arshavin and Pavyluchenko looked out on their feet and bereft of fight as Russia bowed out.
If only certain Premier League managers were paying attention.