Dutch seek to extend run; Russia want upset

Basel, June 20:

In an ideal world, Guus Hiddink will be hero and traitor all rolled into one excellent coach by Saturday night.

Hiddink, a Dutchman who coaches Russia, goes into the European

Championship quarter-finals against the Netherlands a huge underdog, but he’s not worried that his patriotism might be questioned.

“I hope to be a big traitor tomorrow,” he said jokingly. “I want to be THE — in capitals — traitor of the year in Holland.” Hiddink already added to his lore as a world traveller leaving success in his wake by taking the Russians to their first quarter-final at a major tournament in two decades. He doesn’t want to stop now, not after Russia played with some Dutch flair to send Sweden home with a 2-0 win Wednesday.

And Netherlands coach Marco van Basten has already heeded the warning. “We have to prepare for heavy weather,” Van Basten said.

The main plot of Saturday’s match was supposed to be the Dutch facing off with one of the greatest Dutch coaches — Hiddink.

Human tragedy struck though, and now all eyes will be on Netherlands defender Khalid Boulahrouz, who lost his prematurely born daughter days ahead of the quarterfinal match. He already told coach Marco van Basten he is available for the match despite the pain.

“You can count on me,” Boulahrouz said. Van Basten said his team had dealt with the issue and would give its full focus to making its second semifinal appearance in as many European tournaments.

In three games so far, they have proved to be one of the great oranje sides for the ages. Within one glowing week, they beat world champions Italy 3-0 and dismissed the other World Cup finalists, France, 4-1. And all in a style reminiscent of the halcyon days of the 1970s, when they produced its famed “clockwork orange.”

Hiddink could have asked for no better opportunity to be the underdog. “The Dutch are miles ahead in experience,” Hiddink said. “Look at the names of the players, look at the clubs.” Russia have already gone through an epic struggle just to get to the match. Spain almost turned the team into a laughing stock when they beat the Russians 4-1. Facing defending champions Greece next, few gave anything for their survival.

The Russians survived with a 1-0 win and finally produced sparkling football in a 2-0 win over Sweden. Some said it had a hint of Dutch class, the ultimate accolade at the championships.

“He’s done great. First he built a new team and now he got through a tough group,” Van Basten said. Hiddink knows all about the Dutch. He led them to the World Cup semifinals in 1998. His global credentials also include leading South Korea to a surprising semifinal place in 2002 and Australia into the second round of the World Cup two years ago — two stunning surprises.