Euro 2008 – Spain power past Russia into final
Spain marched into their first final in 24 years in style by comfortably beating Russia 3-0 in a rain-soaked Vienna.
The match at the Ernst Happel Stadium was another instalment of the Cesc Fabregas Show, as the Arsenal midfielder came off the bench to set up two of the goals in a virtuoso display in which Xavi, Dani Guiza and David Silva all scored to set up Sunday’s clash against Germany.
Following an intriguing but cagey first half, Spain opened the scoring five minutes after the break when midfielder Andres Iniesta teased full-back Alexander Anyukov before cutting inside and lifting a ball into the path of Barcelona team mate Xavi Hernandez, and the little playmaker lost his marker to stab a volley past goalkeeper Igor Afinkeev.
With 15 minutes to go and Russia under severe pressure, they put the game beyond doubt when Francesc Fabregas deftly lifted a ball over the defence for substitute Dani Guiza to finish from close range.
Luis Aragones’s side then heaped the misery onto a demoralised Russia in the closing stages when Fabregas found David Silva with enough time to take a touch and pick his spot to make it 3-0.
After a flowing opening five minutes, Spain created the first chance when Xavi curled an inviting cross in for Sergio Ramos, but the full-back’s diving header was just too late.
Moments later, striker Fernando Torres spun and shot from close range, but Afinkeev was equal to it.
Russia were punching their weight in the first half, with striker Roman Pavluchenko failing to take a handful of opportunities, but they did not play with the guile and panache that saw them defeat Netherlands in the quarter-final.
That was surely due in no small part to the fortunes of Andrei Arshavin, who was not given the time or space by the Spanish, in particular midfielder Marcos Senna, to be eefective, forcing him ever deeper into midfield.
Villa, the tournament’s top scorer going into the match with four goals, had difficulty finidng the space to create chances, and was reduced to mainly take shots from distance.
After striking a free kick that was comfortably saved by Akinfeev on the half hour, Villa appeared to be in some discomfort.
A few minutes later, he sat down on the turf with an expression that looked like a man who knew he would play no further part in the match, and he was helped off the pitch to be replaced by Francesc Fabregas. The Valencia striker will now miss the final.
Fabregas made his mark almost immediately, sending a diagonal cross to the impressive Torres, whose first touch set up a left-footed shot that flashed over the bar.
After Spain opened the scoring, russia’s resolve seemed to desert them. Even the double-change made soon after by manager Guus Hiddink – bringing on midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and striker Dmitri Sychev – could not inject the required impetus into the Russian side that had won so many admirers throughout this tournament.
Torres continued to labour and had a couple of chances to get his own name on the scoresheet, before being substituted for Guiza.
After the 4-1 defeat in their opening match, few expected Russia to surrender so easily again, but in the end their failure to contain the free-flowing Spanish play, as well as their inability to impose themselves on the game, was their undoing.