Arshavin takes Spanish lessons

Vienna, June 27:

The Russian who says he wants to play for Barcelona was given something very serious to think about on Thursday by a Spanish team that showed what true class is all about.

If he ever lines up alongside Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in a Barcelona midfield, as he has indicated he wants to do, Andrei Arshavin may contribute to a top quality side.

Maybe the men who already play in the famous Barca shirts wanted to show him something in the 3-0 drubbing that sent Spain to the final. Russia’s playmaker, who helped Zenit St Petersburg win the UEFA Cup, felt the full force of La Liga and came off second best.

The diminutive midfielder with the silky dribble left all his talent in the changing room and appeared powerless to stop Spain. Arshavin had to sit out Russia’s 4-1 loss to the Spaniards in group play because of suspension. He virtually did the same here.

Sadly, on the night he was supposed to be Russia’s big weapon in an audacious bid to reach the final, it was as if he had once again virtually joined the 51,000 spectators in admiring the adventurous Spaniards again. Having served his two-game ban, Arshavin played a major part in Russia’s amazing charge to the semi-final, scoring or setting up goals in the wins over Sweden and Holland and putting himself at the front of the chase for the player of the championship award.

This simply wasn’t his night and, although he played the full 90 minutes, he contributed absolutely nothing to Russia’s bid to give coach Guus Hiddink a rare final after two World Cup semifinal losses with the Netherlands and South Korea.

But the game appeared to be passing Arshavin by. He went on one mazy dribble through the Spanish defense early in the first half but held onto the ball too long when he should have passed. When he neatly turned a pass to try and send a teammate towards goal, the moved fizzled out. The rest of the time Arshavin watched as Spain repeatedly cut through the Russian midfield and three goals followed in the second half, the first of them, in the 50th minute, made in Barcelona. Iniesta cut in from the left and drove in a low cross which Xavi met first time with his right foot to steer the ball home.

Even those Spanish players who don’t play at home gave the Russians the runaround. Arshavin watched from the other end of the field as his goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeyev, punched away shots from substitutes Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres twice missed from close range.

Although it was a delight to watch for the Spanish fans and the neutrals in the stadium it was painful for Arshavin and his Russian teammates, who now have lost by a combined 7-1 to the same team and failed to make the final.