Russia 0-3 Spain (Xavi 50′, Guiza 73′, Silva 82′)
Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna
Thursday 26 June 2008
Euro 2008, Semi Final #2
Kickoff: 20:45 CET, 19:45 GMT, 14:45 EST
Spain defeated Russia 3-0 to advance to the Finals against Germany.
Soccerlens provided live coverage of this event. Click below for the live blog.
Is it possible to become a completely different team over the span of two weeks? Russia certainly thinks so. How else can you explain their optimism and confidence going into their Semifinal match against Spain, the team that humiliated them 4-1 in the opening match of the Group Phase? Russia seems to have momentum in their favor, as they ousted a talented Dutch team that had gone undefeated in the vaunted Group of Death. Meanwhile, Spain is coming off a lackluster match against Italy during which their free-flowing and entertaining offense sputtered and struggled. Indeed, it seems as if that 4-1 Spanish win was years ago, not weeks ago.
Nevertheless, Spain believe that this is finally their year to break through on the international stage after years and years of underachievement. Plus, Spain has shrewdly put the pressure on Russia by heaping praise on their players and saying that the Russians have the momentum going into this match. Rumors of Spain’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and their poor showing against Italy was probably due to Italy’s defense-first scheme more than anything else. Still, perception is often greater than reality, and the perception is that Spain is limping in while Russia is galloping at full speed ahead.
Still, you underestimate Spain at your own peril. After all, Spain have tons of talent and are probably the deepest team in the tournament. For example, Pepe Reina has been one of the top goal keepers in the world over the last few years with Liverpool. He’s third-string for Spain. Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso are important cogs for Arsenal and Liverpool, respectively. Both of them come off the bench. Spain has so many talented players that Real Madrid superstar, Raul, was omitted from the team completely. Simply put, there is no team that can boast the same kind of talent from top-to-bottom that Spain can.
However, talent doesn’t win championships. Oftentimes, it’s about peaking at the right time, and it looks like Russia might be doing that. They got their talismanic playmaker, Andrei Arshavin back during the final match of the Group Phase, and no player’s stock has risen as much as Arshavin’s has over the last week. Indeed, not since Wayne Rooney has a young player taken the Euros by storm over such a short amount of time the way Arshavin has. Most importantly, Russia didn’t have Arshavin when they met Spain earlier in the tournament. That’s a huge psychological boost for the Russians.
Still, the Russians better be careful. They can’t underestimate this Spanish side and they certainly cannot afford to believe their own hype. Hopefully, Guus Hiddink isn’t convinced that he’s suddenly the greatest soccer mind since the guy who invented the ball. Hopefully, Arshavin isn’t convinced that he’s the second coming of Zinedine Zidane. Hopefully, Pavlyuchenko, Semak, Zurianov, Zhirkov, and others aren’t convinced that they’re the greatest collection of talent since the original Dream Team. Otherwise, they’ll be in for a rude awakening against a team that is absolutely determined to exorcise the ghosts of past World Cups and Euros.
We should be in for a great game between two attack-minded sides. Spain likes to play the possession game, but they have excellent passers and exciting finishers in Torres and Villa. Russia likes to play up on the pitch, often sending their full backs on the attack while to help Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko terrorize opposing defenses. Ultimately, this match might come down to which team defends better. Russia will be without the suspended Kolodin, who had established a formidable partnership with Ignashevich in central midfield. Spain’s defenders are all available, and Puyol looks like he’s healthy after injuring himself against Sweden.
Hopefully, we won’t suffer any more technical difficulties with the TV coverage. Otherwise, I’m sure my editor will be more than happy to fly me out to Vienna for the Finals.
Russia: Akinfeev, Aniukov, Berezutsky, Ignashevich, Zhirkov, Semak (captain), Zurianov, Semshov, Saenko, Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko
Subs: Malafeev, Gabulov, Berezutsky, Shirokov, Yanbaev, Bilyaletdinov, Bystrov, Ivanov, Sychev, Adamov.
Russia will start with a 4-1-3-2 with Arshavin playing slightly behind Pavlyuchenko and Semak protecting the back-line. Berezutsky gets the start in place of the suspended Kolodin, otherwise, it’s the same lineup that took out the Netherlands. Russia will miss their impact sub, Torbinsky, who will miss out due to suspension.
Spain: Casillas (captain), Ramos, Marchena, Puyol, Capdevilla, Iniesta, Senna, Xavi, Silva, Villa, Torres.
Subs: Palop, Reina, Juanito, Navarro, Albiol, Arbeloa, Alonso, Fabregas, Cazorla, de la Red, Guiza, Garcia.
Spain will start in the tradition 4-4-2. After speculation that Fabregas might get the start, Luis Aragones has decided to go with the lineup that’s gotten him this far. Plus, he’s going with the same lineup that got that 4-1 win in the Group Phase. Spain likes using Fabregas in that supersub role, but the team plays better when he’s in there. Not sure why they don’t want to maximize that.
0′ Wow. Russians get a 1.1 million Euro bonus per player if they win it all. Not even Davydenko would tank if he got that kind of bonus for every title he won.
0′ Spain are wearing their yellow jerseys. Apparently, Spaniards believe the color is unlucky. You gotta wonder, then, why did they create a yellow jersey in the first place? I know it’s one of their colors of their flag, but why tempt the fates like that? Why not go with white or something?
0′ It’s raining in Vienna. Hopefully, we avoid the lightning.
0′ It’s anthem time. Spain goes first, and none of the players are singing “Marcha Real.” I guess they believe in solemnly observing the anthem and paying their respects in silence. That’s too bad. Oh wait a minute. Apparently, the anthem has no lyrics. Nevermind. The Russians then treat us to a nice rendition of “Hymn of the Russian Federation.” Can’t really compare an instrumental with a traditional anthem. We’ll call it a no contest.
0′ Russia kicks off and we’re under way!
2′ Arshavin tries to link up with Pavlyuchenko, but to no avail. Apparently, Pavlyuchenko is leading the tournament in shots taken, most of which have been off target. I see he’s taken the same approach I took with my law school finals. Keep firing away until you hit something.
4′ Spain on the attack as Torres gets past Berezutsky. Berezutsky gets back to block the cross, though, and it’s Xavi to take the corner. It goes to Sergio Ramos, but he can’t connect with the overhead kick.
5′ Beautiful cross by Xavi to Sergio Ramos in the box, but he can’t connect with it. That had goal written all over it. Aniukov has to hit it out and concede the corner. Nothing doing on the resulting corner.
6′ Villa gets loose in the box and gives it to Torres. Torres does a little pirouette and fires it on goal. He can’t get enough power on it, though, and Akinfeev makes the easy save.
8′ Well, the Spaniards say that their jersey is mustard-colored. Not yellow. Well okay, then. I’m sure the Gods will be sufficiently fooled.
9′ Zurianov makes the run down the right flank and tries to cross into the box. Casillas is there, though, to snuff out the Russian attack.
10′ Russians take it away and go on the counter-attack. Pavlyuchenko is all alone going against the entire Spanish backline. Nothing doing by Cristiano Pavlyuchenko.
11′ Villa creates some space and fires a long-distance shot at goal. Akinfeev makes the diving save.
12′ Arshavin gets the touch, but Marchena is there to neutralize him. Saenko gets it and tries to cross it. Spain is there to force the corner. Saenko plays it short to Arshavin, who lofts it into the box. There’s no Russian around, though, and Casillas handles it easily.
13′ Xavi runs down the right flank and sends a beautiful cross into the box. No one is there for Spain, though. Too bad. That was a great cross. Where was Torres on that?
14′ There’s Torres. He goes down in the box on contact from Ignashevich. No penalty, though. I’m not sure about that. It looks like Ignashevich had his arm around Torres’ neck and brought him down like Nikolai Volkoff used to.
16′ Free kick for Russia as Arshavin is taken down by Puyol. Pavlyuchenko sends a rocket towards goal, but it’s over the crossbar. Man, that had some mustard on it.
17′ Good chance for Russia as Saenko sends a nice through-ball to Zhirkov down the left flank. Zhirkov’s cross is poor, though, and Pavlyuchenko can’t do anything with it.
18′ Great long ball to Torres in the box, but he can’t maintain his balance. Poor marking by the Russians.
19′ Back the other way as Arshavin tries a shot, but it’s easily blocked.
20′ Iniesta with a nice run into the box and slides it to Villa on the right. Villa can’t get there in time, though, and Berezutksy clears it.
21′ Russia gets a free kick after Capdevilla fouls Semak. Saenko with a service into the box, but Senna is there to head it out.
22′ Zhirkov down the left again, he tries to swing the cross, but Sergio Ramos knocks it out for the corner. Russians thought the ref called for a throw-in, but then they realized what the right call was. Russians play it short again, and Spain knocks it out for a throw. Maybe they should have just saved everyone the time and trouble and just done the throw in the first place. They try to find Arshavin, but he can’t get to it and it goes out for a goal kick.
24′ Sergio Ramos tries a long-distance shot on Akinfeev, but it doesn’t trouble the keeper. I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of that, what with the rain and everything. Might as well see if the goal keeper can avoid making mistakes once the ball gets wet. Right Petr Cech?
25′ Sergio Ramos sends a cross into the box, but Akinfeev punches it away. Meanwhile, Saenko and Marchena get into a little catfight after Spain wins the free kick. Oh no. There’s lightning.
26′ Xavi with a great over-the-top flick to Iniesta that hits him on the back of his head. Iniesta tries to control it and knock it in, but he whiffs on the kick.
29′ Spain wins a free kick and it’s Villa to take it. He sends a dipping and diving effort towards goal, but Akinfeev takes care of it.
31′ Great long-distance effort from Pavlyuchenko, which forces Casillas to make a diving save.
32′ Fabregas is standing up and warming up. Interesting. David Villa looks hurt. I guess we’ll see Cesc after all.
34′ Sure enough, Villa’s replaced with Fabregas. Big loss for Spain, since Villa had been playing so well. Still Fabregas is a playmaker, so they won’t lack for creativity. Meanwhile, Spain is nearly caught napping as Pavlyuchenko gets behind the defense and is served with a great pass. His chance goes just wide, though. Ugh!
36′ Fabregas sends it to Sergio Ramos, who makes some nifty moves before firing the shot on goal. It’s off target, though. It looks like Villa tweaked his foot on the free kick attempt.
38′ Fabregas sends a nice lob to Torres deep in the box. Torres juggles it around, but his shot is weak and handled by Akinfeev.
39′ Fabregas again as he makes a nice run down the right and tries the cross into the box. Akinfeev intercepts it, though. Still, you can see the effect Fabregas is having on the game.
40′ Zhirkov tries to get around Sergio Ramos, but he can’t do it. It ain’t Phillip Lahm out there, that’s for sure.
41′ Fabregas gives it away right outside the box and the Russians go on the offensive. They slow things down, though, and look to build things up a bit. Marchena is able to snuff out the threat, though, and Spain is on the counterattack. Torres gets it on the edge of the box, but Ignashevich is there to stop him.
42′ Spain with another good chance as Iniesta gets free in the box tries to cross it back across goal. It’s a funny angle, but Akinfeev handles it.
44′ Torres gets slammed to the ground and Spain gets a free kick. Xavi tries to lob into the box for Sergio Ramos, but he overshoots him and Akinfeev is there for the save.
45′ One minute added on. Puyol and Arshavin have a meeting of the minds and both are down. Hmm… Barcelona’s captain collides with Barcelona’s summer transfer target. I bet the Camp Nou braintrust just held their breaths. The ref blows the whistle and we’re at halftime.
I thought this match was going to be a classic, and so far, it’s been anything but. Neither team generated too many scoring chances, with the best one being Pavlyuchenko’s shot right after Fabregas came on for Silva. Spain will miss Villa, but Fabregas started to make things happen when he came in. Despite that, Spain didn’t really threaten and Torres has been off his game all day. Meanwhile, for Russia, Arshavin has been mostly neutralized. Maybe things will open up in the second half. Hopefully, we’re not in for another Spain/Italy snoozefest.
45′ Spain kicks off the second half. Torres better get it going. With the way things usually go, he’ll be off the pitch in 20 minutes or so. Ramos with an optimistic lob to Silva, but Akinfeev is there to snap it up.
47′ Fabregas pushes Zurianov and Zurianov loses his shoe in the process. Fabregas makes nice afterwards. No spitting from Cesc this time.
49′ Sergio Ramos with an enticing cross into the box. Spain has numbers in there, but the cross is taken care of by Aniukov. Back the other way as Zurianov tries the give-and-go near the box with Pavlyuchenko. The return pass is too long, though, and Casillas gets it.
50′ GOAL! Iniesta with a nice move into the box and he sends a nice cross to an unmarked Xavi. Xavi knocks it past Akinfeev and it’s 1-nil. Andy Gray is convinced Iniesta tried to shoot it, and after another viewing, I have to agree. There was too much pace on that ball to be a cross. Still, great redirection by Xavi and terrible marking by Russia.
52′ Russia gets a corner as Pavlyuchenko gets it. Nothing doing, though. Meanwhile, back the other way as Torres had a clear shot on goal, but he hits it over the bar. Torres should have done better. He had no one in front of him. He was knocking those in all year at Liverpool.
54′ Iniesta with a good give-and-go with Silva. The return is too long, but Spain protests that it was off Aniukov’s foot. No dice, though. It’s a goal kick for Russia.
55′ Sergio Ramos with good defense down the left flank as Zhirkov was charging down his path once again. Are you watching Phillip Lahm? Spain back the other way. Fabregas with the long pass to Torres. Torres cross it into the center of the box, but there’s no one there for Spain. Russia is going to make a change. Semshov is off and Bilyaletdinov is on.
56′ Make that two subs. Sychev comes on for Saenko. Two offensive minded players come on for the defensive midfielder and a guy who hasn’t done much. It’s a no-brainer. By the way, Sychev is called the “Russian Michael Owen.” Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing these days.
59′ Zurianov with the foul on Xavi, and Spain gets the free kick. Spain on the attack and Capdevilla with a cross into the box that’s cleared by Russia. Meanwhile, Bilyaletdinov gets booked for a foul on Silva. Wow. Almost an hour before the first booking. And to a guy who just came on. Go figure.
60′ Iniesta with the great through ball to Fabregas, who’s all alone in the box. Akinfeev comes out and he and Aiunkov concede the corner. On the corner, it’s another short corner and it goes to Ramos, who then tees it up for Torres. Torres uncorks the shot, but it’s wide of the mark.
62′ Oh boy. Ramos crosses it into the box again, and Torres has a golden opportunity on goal. He pushes it wide, though. Ugh. What’s going on with Russia’s defense? Are they ignoring Torres for a reason? On further inspection, it looks like it was too low for Torres to head it and too high for him to kick it. Thus he got confused and pushed it wide with his knee.
64′ Free kick for Russia right outside the box. Zhirkov’s effort is poor, though, and the threat is averted. Russia throws it in and the lob to Pavlyuchenko is blown dead since he was offsides.
66′ Torres chases down the loose ball in the box, but Berezutski takes it away. It looked like Berezutski might have caught him with an elbow, but no foul.
67′ Fabregas with a great run into the box. He touches it to Torres on the right, but Zhirkov takes it away. Fans wanted a penalty, but it looks like Zhirkov got the ball.
69′ Xavi and Torres come off for Xabi Alonso and Guiza. So Torres got 24 minutes in the second half. I was over by 4. Great long-distance shot by Fabregas and Akinfeev has to make the save. Corner to Spain.
70′ Corner goes to Xabi Alonso, who sends the shot on goal. Akinfeev with the save. Silva gets it and crosses into the box to Sergio Ramos. Ramos can’t bring it down, though, and it goes out for the goal kick.
72′ Guiza tries to send in the cross, but he stumbles right before, and Russia clears it.
73′ GOAL! Guiza is through and he knocks in the overhead chip from Fabregas. I thought he might have been offsides, but Aniukov was keeping him on-sides.
74′ Russia tries to answer as Zhirkov streaks down the left flank and tries to cross into the box. It’s too low, though, and Casillas is there.
76′ Obviously, with all the late goals and miraculous escapes, you can’t count the Russians out. But they’ve never looked like they’ve been in this game, and it’s hard to imagine them getting two goals in the next 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Arshavin tries to slide a pass to Aniukov, but it gets intercepted by Iniesta.
77′ Iniesta with a great through-ball to Guiza, but good defense by Berezutski to put out the fire.
78′ Spain kicks it around and it looks like they’re going to start playing Keep-Away. Silva gets a cross into the box, but the Russians get to it first.
79′ Arshavin tries to lob it to Pavlyuchenko, but it’s long. Russia just doesn’t look as sharp as they did against the Dutch.
81′ Arshavin does well to win the ball from Iniesta. But then gives it away before Russia can build to a counterattack.
82′ GOAL! Fabregas goes down the left and sends a great centering pass to Silva. Silva then knocks it in. Good night. Drive home safely. This one is over. Mark it down in your calendars: Germany vs. Spain in the Finals.
84′ Another chance for Spain as Guiza gets the ball right outside the box. Aniukov is there, though, and he knocks it away.
86′ It pains me to say this since I hate Arsenal and all, but Fabregas has been outstanding tonight. Easily the Man of the Match. Why isn’t he starting again? Fabregas, speak of the devil (yes, that was intentional), sends a great cross into the box, but Guiza was running at half speed and doesn’t get there.
88′ Russia with a free kick after Sergio Ramos gives Pavlyuchenko the Double Axe-Handle. Randy Savage would be proud. On the ensuing free kick, Sychev gets free in the box and heads it towards goal. Casillas makes a great save, though, and keeps the clean shot alive.
89′ Long pass to Guiza, who has a good opportunity to make it 4-nil. Akinfeev with the save, though.
90′ Two minutes of added time. Can Russia score three goals in two minutes?
90′ + 2 Sychev tries to get a consolation goal, but he sends his shot wide left. That’s all folks as the ref blows the whistle. Spain vs. Germany in the Finals! Let the anticipation begin!
So much for the Russian momentum, huh? For all the talk about how much Russia had improved, the end result was the same. A three-goal win for Spain. For all the talk about Arshavin and how Russia didn’t have him in the first match, the end result was pretty much the same. Arshavin was a nonfactor in both matches. Russia have a lot to be proud of. They had a great tournament, they played some great football, they won a lot of admirers, and, most importantly, they proved that they belonged on the biggest stage. A lot of people felt like they stole the spot that rightfully belonged to England. Well, they put an end to those whispers with their inspired run to the Semifinals.
As for Spain, this is a huge hurdle for them. They’ve underachieved for so long that just getting to the Finals is a huge psychological boost for them. They have a huge height disadvantage going against the Germans, but they have more talent across the board and they have the guys who can make Germany pay if their suspect defending and goalkeeping continue. Villa’s injury is a big blow, but they have guys who can step in and make things happen. Then again, maybe the injury is a blessing in disguise. After all, if Villa’s injury forces them to start Fabregas, well, you saw what he can do.
Man of the Match:
Again, the Arsenal hater in me really doesn’t want to do this, but I’ve got no choice. Fabregas was amazing in this match. He was an excellent creative force and immediately made his teammates better. He had two assists and almost scored a goal of his own. Most importantly, he stepped in right after Spain’s leading scorer limped off and lifted the team’s morale by playing great offensive football. He’s had a great tournament coming off the bench as Spain’s supersub. However, he’s earned himself a start in the Finals as he was clearly their best player tonight.