Andrei Arshavin's two virtuoso performances for Russia have stamped the slight forward as the player of UEFA EURO 2008 ahead of the likes of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Holland's Wesley Sneijder.

The 27-year-old was forced to sit out Russia's opening two games against Spain and Greece, but once free of his ban he has left an indelible mark on this tournament.

Russia held a training session at a local stadium in Vienna on Tuesday to prepare for Thursday's semi-final rematch with Spain and every photographer's lens was trained on him.

Arshavin may not have been a household name outside Russia up to now, but that has changed after he led Russia to victory over Sweden and an extra-time triumph in the quarter-finals against Holland.

His starring role gloriously vindicated coach Guus Hiddink's decision to keep him in the squad despite his two-match ban, picked up when he was sent off in the final EURO 2008 qualifier against Andorra.

"I came here hoping I'd get a chance to play at such a big tournament," the Zenit St Petersburg star told the official tournament website.

"I've never been to an event like this before. We had some very tough training sessions and it was difficult for me to be training a lot knowing I wouldn't be playing.

"It was an unusual feeling. Even so I'm happy Guus Hiddink brought me here despite the ban and let me become a part of the tournament."

With a touch of Russian modesty, he played down his role in getting the country to their first European semi-final.

"I've played better games, so many times. It's just that the team is winning.

"I'm not doing anything out of the ordinary. Sometimes I score, sometimes I provide a pass. When you do it in the World Cup or European Championship, in front of a lot of people, there are bigger repercussions, so to speak."

Repercussions that look set to lead him west in the perhaps not too distant future, away from St Petersburg to one of the major European clubs, with Barcelona very much in his mind.

"I have supported Barcelona all my life. Barcelona are my dream. I never thought I would have a genuine chance to play for the club. Let's see how the situation unfolds.

"For now I can't say anything for sure. At the moment I'm a player of team Russia, and I'm only thinking about doing well in the semi-finals."

Assessing the task facing Hiddink's team in that semi-final, he believes that the opening 4-1 rout by the Spaniards has no bearing on Thursday's rematch.

For me the first game has no meaning any more. This is a semi-final and things can be decided by a single mistake
Russian star Andrei Arshavin looks forward to his side's semi-final against Spain

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Reflecting on the lop-sided result against Spain, Arshavin said: "We committed tactical and individual mistakes.

"If you give a shadow of a chance to a striker like David Villa or Fernando Torres, they will put you in trouble. These guys can easily beat a defender one-on-one then score. That's exactly what they did."

He insisted Russia had to stick to their exciting attacking style on Thursday, explaining: "We don't play defensive football, we like to attack.

"But it doesn't all depend on us. Let's see how the Spaniards do. Maybe it makes it harder for us that we play such an open kind of football, because our opponent knows how to counter-attack and they have some fast players.

"But we need to play our way instead of adapting to the opposition."

The wizard
Hiddink has once again proved himself a master at getting results from unheralded sides, as he did with South Korea at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and Australia four years later.

And Arshavin paid tribute to the man the Russian media have dubbed 'the wizard'.

"When he came two years ago it was the most important decision made by our FA president (Football Union of Russia chief Vitaly Mutko).

"Everyone in Russia is envious he makes so much money and enjoys so much power. But for him it's not as easy to work as it seems.

"This is a big event for us, the players. He gave us more freedom, he believes in us, he trusts us and that's why we play better. I'm very happy to work with one of the best coaches in the world. To be part of his team is a real pleasure."

Russia's explosion in their last three games has surprised even their key player.

"To be honest, I wouldn't have believed it. I can't say we were playing good football in the friendlies, but things change quickly in life. Now we have beaten the Dutch, who were perhaps the strongest team in the tournament, so it's natural we are more confident."