Eurocup: Spain 4 Russia 1 June 11, 2008Posted by Daniel Martin in General.
Tags: Eurocup, Spain Russia, Villa's hat trick
An article from The Guardian. Let’s enjoy while it lasts.
Roman Abramovich can well afford it, but as Chelsea’s owner looked on at this most breathtaking of venues in Innsbruck he knew that he might have to add millions to any summer bid for David Villa.
The Valencia striker features prominently on his club’s wish-list and, on the evidence of this performance, it is not difficult to see why. Villa ignited Spain’s campaign with a devastating hat-trick, the second and third goals of which demonstrated his ruthlessness, as his country continued their recent trend of making sure-footed early strides at major finals.
Villa intends to leave Valencia during the summer and clubs across the continent would have been impressed by his quick feet, deceptive pace and excellent timing, not to mention his nerveless edge in front of goal. This was far from a one-man show, however, as Xavi and David Silva stamped their authority on the midfield while Fernando Torres was selfless and brilliant – but Villa was the difference.
Thunder crashed, lightning crackled and the rain poured down on this picturesque stadium, which offers vistas of snow-capped peaks and rolling tree-lined valleys. Villa, though, was an alternative force of nature. “He is a natural goalscorer,” said Luis Aragonés, Spain’s manager. “He got three and he could have had one more. It was his day today but tomorrow it could be Torres’ day.”
Spain are past-masters at raising expectation levels after opening matches. They had won their previous three impressively, with the 4-0 drubbing of Ukraine at the last World Cup setting the highest of standards. Their subsequent exits must have felt even more crushing, and the reputation as underachievers has dogged them.
The knowledge of lessons learned and the prospect of tougher battles ahead, however, did nothing to dampen last night’s celebrations. After Roman Pavlyuchenko, England’s destroyer in Moscow during qualification, had headed in to make it 3-1, Cesc Fábregas added the gloss in injury-time with his first international goal, a stooping header that looked to be offside. The Arsenal midfielder had been introduced as a substitute, together with Xabi Alonso of Liverpool, moves which indicated of Spain’s depth.
Guus Hiddink, Russia’s manager, argued that the scoreline had flattered Spain and wondered what might have been had Igor Semshov not dragged a shot wide at 0-0 or if Konstantin Zyryanov had shot inside a post rather than straight at it moments after Villa’s opener.
The Dutchman felt that their punishment had largely been incurred on the counter-attack. “It’s a matter of knowing when the fire starts and knowing when to be firemen,” he added, before offering lukewarm praise for the victors. “Spain will have to show themselves when they play against a team who know the laws of international competition. We helped them too much.”
It is true that Spain were far from authoritative and stronger teams might make a better fist of exploiting their weaknesses at the back. But the gulf in class yawned and Hiddink’s team had no answer to the movement of Villa and, in particular, Torres. Aragonés’ decision to alter his formation and push Villa behind the Liverpool striker paid a startling dividend.
The pair combined beautifully for the first goal. Torres mugged Denis Kolodin in possession, the Russian central defender having dwelt fatefully, and after surging in on goal and sensing the advance of the goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, he flicked the ball back and square for the onrushing Villa to push it into the empty net. “There has been a lot of talk that myself and Fernando do not work together but we showed that is not the case,” said Villa, who ran to the bench to celebrate his third goal with Torres, who by then had been replaced by Fábregas.
Zyryanov should have done better than rattle a post from Dmitri Sychev’s cross and Spain promptly turned the screw. Torres and Villa went close after getting behind a static defence, but as half-time approached Zyryanov’s cross following a short corner fell loose and Spain sprang forward. Silva found Andrés Iniesta and his weighted pass invited Villa, preying on the edge of the defensive line, to glide in and slam a low, first-time shot through Akinfeev’s legs.
The substitution of Torres seemed designed to close the game out, but Spain continued to threaten. Villa completed his hat-trick following another slick move, taking Fábregas’ final ball, jinking and rifling home low again and although Pavlyuchenko got the goal that Russia deserved, Spain had the final word, Fábregas finishing after Akinfeev had parried Xavi’s volley from Villa’s cross.
Helicopter blades whirred after the game and Abramovich was off. The Russian billionaire’s disappointment, though, might have been eased by the dream of seeing Villa in Chelsea blue.