Russia 0-3 Spain. Well Italy didn’t go out for nothing at least. Yet.
The ever-famous (or infamous, I guess it depends where you stand) tournament-chokers really made a statement on Thursday night. Getting three goals past your opponent in a Euro Semi-Finals cannot be ignored, even if that opponent was modest Russia (who in spite of being modest, was one of the most attractive and surprising teams of this tournament). In particular, what was even more remarkable is that Spain scored three goals without conceding any, a feat which against the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko was far from being a bookie’s favorite.
So ¡enhorabuena! to La Furia Roja, this Euro 2008 final vs. Germany promises to be a tough and exciting battle. The only snag for Spain is that they may have to do it without David Villa (picking up a muscle strain today).
(From Gazzetta): VIENNA, 26 JUNE 2008 – A superb Spanish display sunk Russia on a very wet Thursday night, thanks to goals from Xavi, Güiza and Silva. Chants of “Viva España” rang around Vienna’s Ernst Happel stadium as Spanish fans witnessed their national side (who had gotten rid of Italy in the quarter-finals) first tame the Russians, and then finish them off in the second half with an incredible technical display. Hats off to “La Furia Roja” and their perfect team, epitomised by their slick movements and the individual genius of their stars. Cesc Fabregas was the key to the game as the young Arsenal genius came on in place of Villa in minute 35 and put all his class at the disposal of the team, namely in the shape of some sublime passing and two beautiful assists.
GAME OF CHESS – The wisdom of Luis Aragonés pitted against the enterprise of Guus Hiddink, or rather, Spain’s methodical school against Russia’s “mutant” one. Luis Aragones kept faith as always in his solid and fast 4-4-2 formation, which has earned the nickname of “windscreen wiper” in the Iberian peninsula (as it does away with anything in its path). Hiddink meanwhile may well be a mercenary, but when he puts his hands to the job he can certainly work miracles, and the Dutch tactician made only one unexpected change with regards to pre match predictions, preferring Ivan Saenko to Bilyaletdinov, who took his place up front beside Andrei Arshavin -Russia’s new prodigal son with a whole nation at his feet.
SKIRMISHES – Nerves got the better of Hiddink’s youngsters however, as the more experienced Spain attacked and pressed. On 6 minutes Fernando Torres turned well in the area and fired a shot at Igor Akinfeev, who let the ball slip out of his arms. Then again on 11 minutes David Villa fired a thunderbolt from outside the area, stinging the hands of Russia’s number one. The Russian alarm bells ringing. Hiddink was forced to raise his voice to reorganise his side and get them back into the game, and it seemed as Russia got the message when Roman Pavlyuchenko hit a well-struck free-kick from the edge of the area just over the bar (minute 16).
BALANCE – This was certainly not the same Russian side that annihilated Holland in the previous round, but Hiddink’s men did well to close their ranks and leave the opposition with limited space to exploit. Yuri Zhirkov’s tactical acumen provided Russia’s biggest threat as the fullback was given licence to push down the wing and instigate Russia’s attacks. Spain became less adventurous as the half progressed and also had a couple of close shaves. On 31 minutes, Pavlyuchenko had the Russian fans celebrating prematurely as Casillas just got a fingertip to the striker’s scorcher, only to send the ball agonisingly wide. On 34 minutes Villa picked up an injury and forced Aragonés to bring on Cesc Fabregas in replacement, and the Arsenal youngster immediately added quality to Spain’s play by positioning himself behind Torres.
Meanwhile, the rain was not showing any signs of relenting and made the players more heavy-legged, but this didn’t seem to affect the frequency of goalscoring opportunities. Indeed, on 35 minutes Pavlyuchenko controlled the ball with his chest just a couple of yards away from Casillas, but just as the Russian striker was preparing to shoot Carles Puyol managed to get a tackle in. Then it was Torres’s turn, as “El Niño” had Spanish fans on their feet through a clever dummy and shot in the area, only for Akinfeev to save the Liverpool striker’s effort.
DOWN WITH THE MASKS – After all the calculating and caution of the first half, the second half closed the door to such tactics: indeed, it only took 5 minutes past kick-off for Spain to open the score. Andrés Iniesta broke down the left and played in the perfect ball for Xavi, who drove an unsaveable shot past Akinfeev. 1-0 Spain.
Russia tried to reply by unleashing that high tempo of theirs, but in the process opened up space for the opposition to exploit and Torres came close to doubling his team’s lead, after some sublime passing between Silva and Fabregas. Conceding Xavi’s goal really had stunned the Russians. In the end in all came down to a question of experience, which Hiddink’s men were made to pay for their lack of. Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Dmitriy Sychev came on for Semshov and Saenko, but not even fresh legs were enough for Russia as Spain now controlled the game and created chance after chance, taking full advantage of a weak and scared-looking Russia.
Spain also made a double substitution, with Dani Güiza and Xabi Alonso coming on for Torres and Xavi, thus giving fresh legs and power to the team. An explosive and lively Spain then proceeded to totally outclass the opposition, as Marcos Senna coordinated the midfield and the wingers revelled in the space afforded to them. Then came Guiza’s goal and Spain’s second, as Cesc Fabregas beautifully touched the ball on for the striker, who sent the Russians packing with a lob over the keeper. 2-0 Spain.
But Fabregas was not done yet. As if to say to Aragonés “You left me on the bench? Now I’ll show you!”, the Spanish youngster exploited a good Spanish counter-attack and played another perfect cross for David Silva, who completed the rout with a third. 3-0 Spain, and what a Spain, were thus in the Euro 2008 final.
|GOALSCORERS: 50’ Xavi (S), 73’ Güiza (S), 82’ Silva (S).|
|RUSSIA (4-3-2-1): Akinfeev – Anyukov, Ignashevich, V. Berezutskiy, Zhirkov – Zyryanov, Semak, Semshov (56’ Bilyaletdinov) – Saenko (57’ Sychev), Arshavin – Pavlyuchenko. (bench: Gabulov, Malafeev, Yanabaev, Berezutski, Adamov, Ivanov, Shirokov, Bystrov). Coach: Hiddink.|
|SPAIN (4-4-2): Casillas – Ramos, Marchena, Puyol, Capdevila – Iniesta, Senna, Xavi (69’ Xabi Alonso), Silva – Villa (34’ Fàbregas), F.Torres (69’Güiza). (bench: Palop, Reina, Albiol, F.Navarro, Cazorla, Sergio Garçia, Arbeloa, Juanito, De la Red). Coach: Aragones.|