/ 26 June 2008

Classy Spain too good for Russia

Spain, one of the pre-tournament favourites, ensured they made the Euro 2008 final with a 3-0 demolition of Russia on Thursday.

Xavi, Daniel Guiza and David Silva scored the goals as Spain brought Russia quickly back down to earth following Russia’s surprise win over The Netherlands in the quarterfinals.

The win gave Spain their first place in a final for 24 years, where they lost to hosts France in the Euro 1984 final.

Guus Hiddink’s team failed to spark, with the much-hyped Andrei Arshavin a huge let-down.

Spain were always the more controlled and measured, and when they let their passing game flow in the second half they proved too good for their inexperienced opponents.

The result matched the 4-1 Group D drubbing the Spaniards had dealt Russia in their opening game of the competition, and they will now meet Germany — who beat Turkey 3-2 in Wednesday’s semifinal — in Sunday’s trophy match.

Russia began with a lot of energy, although their final ball more often than not was poor.

Spain had the first chance as David Villa cleverly played in Fernando Torres in the sixth minute, but goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev kicked away his snap-shot.

Villa then tried his luck from distance with a vicious shot that Akinfeev palmed to safety.

Arshavin was largely anonymous throughout, although his strike partner, Roman Pavlyuchenko, proved an occasional menace and lashed a free-kick over the bar on 16 minutes.

The Iberians suffered a blow on 34 minutes as striker Villa limped out with a leg injury, but coach Luis Aragones curiously chose to replace him with midfielder Cesc Fabregas rather than striker Guiza.

Almost immediately Pavlyuchenko should have scored as he took down the ball on his chest, only to have his heel clipped as he went to shoot, failing to make good contact and flicking the ball wide.

Spain had the last chance of the first half with a piece of great skill from Torres, who took down Fabregas’s pass and turned on to his left foot, only to scuff his shot straight at Akinfeev.

Spain took the lead on 50 minutes as Xavi, who up until then had had a quiet game, arrived late in the box to convert Iniesta’s driven cross, poking out a foot to prod the ball between Akinfeev’s legs.

The game had needed a goal, and that opened it up, with Torres curling a shot over the bar moments later.

Hiddink made a double change soon afterwards and his team started to play with more urgency, although at the expense of their accuracy.

With Russia pushing forward Spain started to counter-attack, with Torres enjoying much more space until he found himself surprisingly replaced by Guiza.

However, the move bore fruit on 73 minutes as Fabregas flicked the ball over the top and Guiza beat the offside trap to chip delicately over the orushing Akinfeev and give Spain a comfortable cushion.

Silva completed the rout on 82 minutes, converting another measured ball from Fabregas on the counter.

Russia almost got a late consolation but Iker Casillas saved Dmitri Sychev’s point-blank header. — AFP