Striker's Return to Form Takes Euro '08 by Storm

ReutersPavlyuchenko beating Dutch defender Joris Mathijsen to score Russia's opening goal in Saturday's quarterfinal.
BASEL, Switzerland -- Russia striker Roman Pavlyuchenko has woken from a footballing slumber to score three times and become one of the Euro 2008 semifinalists' best assets.

Described as a "sleeping giant" by coach Guus Hiddink, who told him to wake up and get fit or risk missing the finals, the promising but sometimes frustrating 26-year-old has clearly been aroused by that alarm bell.

Having convinced Hiddink to include him in the squad, he lost weight and sharpened his game during an intense pretournament training program. When striker Pavel Pogrebnyak pulled out injured days before the start, he was ready to take over in the starting lineup.

Even Pavlyuchenko's teammates seem surprised at the impact their number 19 has had.

"I think Roman is the biggest revelation so far. He has always played well in the Russian league and was top scorer for the last two seasons, but I think nobody expected him to play like he is at the European Championship," Russia captain Sergei Semak told

"Pavlyuchenko, it seems, has become one of the leaders of this side."

His ability to score has always been evident, the double against England in a 2-1 qualifying win last October in Moscow is a case in point, and he has found the net a respectable nine times in 19 appearances.

It is the striker's attitude that has appeared to frustrate Hiddink, who admits he gets annoyed with players who do not perform to their full potential.

Pavlyuchenko's laid-back manner is both his friend and enemy, allowing him to drift unnoticed despite his height (1.88 meters) into dangerous spaces, but it can also try the patience of his coaches.

"When I saw him move in previous games and in the league I sometimes got annoyed," Hiddink told reporters on Monday.

"If you are a well paid professional, you need to work like hell. You have to take this responsibility.

"We talked about this and he worked perfectly. ... He got into physical shape, and if you get into physical shape your mental shape will get there as well."

Pavlyuchenko's performance against England made him an overnight hero at home, and the media attention the usually shy player received seemed to send him on a downward spiral.

He featured on television talk shows, which led him to occasionally miss training. The goals started to dry up, and he was dropped to the reserves by Spartak Moscow after being red-carded for dissent in a defeat by city rivals Dynamo in April.

Those days are now forgotten, and Pavlyuchenko has a new swagger before Thursday's semifinal with Spain in Vienna.

Having the hugely talented playmaker Andrei Arshavin lurking just behind him has clearly helped and he has also been fed some excellent passes from midfielder Konstantin Zyryanov that have given him a clear shot at goal.

If Pavlyuchenko works out how to convert more of those chances as effectively as he has sorted out his other problems, Spain could have trouble on its hands.