Euro 2008 – Spain maintain winning habit
Spain maintained their 100 percent record in Euro 2008 Group D with a 2-1 win over reigning champions Greece in Salzburg.
Once again, as in the win over Sweden, Spain struck in the closing moments to ensure the victory, Mallorca striker Dani Guiza notching his first international goal after Ruben de la Red (pictured celebrating with substitute Santi Cazorla) had equalised Angelos Charisteas‘s opener for Greece.
Spain came into the match on the back of two wins out of two in the group – which had already earned them a quarter-final against Italy – while 2004 champions Greece were keen to give their exuberant fans something to cheer after two defeats.
Despite 10 changes from the previous starting 11 – Barcelona star Andres Iniesta was the only Spaniard to be picked in both matches – Luis Aragones’s side slipped immediately into their slick passing game.
Unfortunately for the watching coach, they did not also display that attacking urgency seen in the opening demolition of Russia – this was more like the narrow Sweden victory, characterised by overplaying in vital areas.
The contrasting styles were again in evidence, Greece shifting the ball into the opposition box at every opportunity, with Giorgos Karagounis’s free-kicks particularly dangerous whenever Spain fouled needlessly in their own half.
As early as the fifth minute that gremlin of the Spanish national side, marking at set-pieces, struck when Traianos Dellas launched into a flying volley from eight yards out after he was left by De la Red. He failed to connect properly, replacement ‘keeper Jose Reina easily gathering.
Halfway through the opening period Xabi Alonso, majestic in midfield all evening, almost scored the goal of the century when he sent the ball dipping over Antonis Nikopolidis from his own half – it was inches wide, conjuring images of Pele‘s effort for Brazil against Czechoslovakia in the 1970 World Cup.
Karagounis was booked for a horrific tackle on Iniesta as he sought to turn a smooth exchange of passes with Fernando Navarro from deep inside his own half into a chance. Before half-time Iniesta went down looking for a penalty and Howard Webb’s refusal to award the spot-kick led to demonstrations of temperament in the closing minutes of the half, resulting in yellow cards for Alvaro Arbeloa and Guiza.
In between those cautions Greece took a surprise lead, Charisteas rising in the box to nod home a Karagounis free-kick and give their partisan supporters something to cheer at last.
Alonso – who got away with flagrantly smashing the ball into Karagounis’s face as he fell at the death of the opening period – came close to scoring a scorcher again on 53 minutes with a rasping drive that cannoned off the inside of the post and flew to safety.
Greece had certainly improved from the disappointing outfit that lost to Sweden in the opening match while continuing to repel attacks with brute force and discipline. However they were powerless to prevent the levelling goal on the hour-mark.
Cesc Fabregas – enjoying a first start in these finals – dinked a ball over the top for Guiza to nod down; Real Madrid youngster De la Red thundered a volley in off the bar, via the desperately thrust arm of Nikopolidis.
That farewell was given a bitter taste when Sergio Garcia’s clever left-footed cross from the right split the defence and Guiza headed home – only two minutes remained of the 90.
It left Greece as the only team without a point in the championships, while Spain joined the Netherlands and Croatia in keeping up a perfect showing in Austria and Switzerland.