Spain is on their way to the finals of the Euro 2008 against Germany on Sunday.
No matter how many times I say that it does not get old. It has been 44 years since Spain last won a major tournament, but Sunday they will have their chance.
The game was not pretty for the first half with both teams playing more to avoid defeat than grab the victory. But that all changed in the second half when Xavi buried a shot/pass from Barça teammate Andres Iniesta.
From that point on it was all Spain. The Russians looked the part of the inexperienced, overmatched side and could not recover from the Spanish goal.
The goal actually made things much worse for the Russians who were suddenly forced to attack with more players and thus leaving their back line unprotected to the deadly Spanish counter attack.
A one goal lead soon expanded to two on a beautiful flick from Cesc Fabregas that found Daniel Güiza alone in the box. Güiza chested the ball down and then used his right foot to flick the ball past the diving Igor Akinfeev.
Spain added one more goal for good measure when Iniesta found Fabregas streaking down the left hand side of the pitch. Cesc settled and found David Silva in the box for his first goal of the tournament.
Spain now enters their biggest test of the tournament against the pre-tournament favorite Germans.
Here is a look at the keys to Spains victory over the Russians:
The depth of this Spanish side cannot be understated. It was on display against Greece in the meaningless group game when 10 new players started for Luis Aragonés and won. And it was on display again tonight
When the tournament’s top scorer, David Villa, went down with an injury in the first half, Aragonés brought on Fabregas and Spain adjusted their lineup from two strikers to a formation with Fernando Torres up top alone.
Cesc made an immediate impact—he assisted on the goals by Güiza and Silva—and controlled the midfield well along with Marcos Senna.
Fabregas, the youngest player on the Spanish squad and the star midfielder at Arsenal, will most likely take Villa’s place in the final after he was ruled out with a quad injury.
Spain will miss Villa for sure. There is no doubt about that. But this team is very deep and will be able to adjust.
2. Sergio Ramos and the defense
I was not a fan of the way the Real Madrid defender had played in the first four games of the tournament. I thought he went forward too much without any results and struggled at the back.
That all changed against Russia.
Ramos got forward like always but, this time, he was incredibly dangerous. He took on, and beat, defenders and played a few very nice crosses into the box.
But what impressed me most about Ramos was his play at the back. Sure a few times he was beaten, but every time he fought back to win the ball. His sure play shut down Yuri Zhirkov who has caused so many problems going forward this tournament.
The solid play by Ramos set the tone for the rest of the defense as well. Throughout the tournament, Spain has looked shaky at the back and vulnerable, but except for a couple of early chances for the Russians, the back four were a rock.
Casillas is a great keeper. And a goalies best friend is a solid defense and only had to save one shot against Russia.
3. Counter Attack
I have written this before, but I will say it again: Spain is at their best when they are running at teams.
They are amazing on the ball and are the best passing team in the world. But they spend way too much time moving the ball in circles without actually accomplishing anything.
This was the story in the first half of the game. But then things changed.
In no way am I saying the loss of Villa was a good thing, but it did cause more of the midfield players to get involved at run at goal without the ball—exactly how Xavi scored.
And then the next two goals were pure counter attacks after Russia began to push everyone forward—very reminicent of the first game between the two teams when Spain won 4-1.
Against Germany it is most likely that Torres will be up front with five midfielders behind him. While he and Villa worked great together, Torres is better suited to working up front alone and making magic in the counter attack.
It will be something Germany will have to be weary of, especially if Spain takes the lead and Germany must push more bodies forward.
Spain is known for coming up short in every major tournament and being unable to live up to expectations.
The team seems to have shaken all of those sentiments this tournament. First it was defeating Italy—on the dreaded June 22nd and on penalties no less. Then came the dreaded yellow jerseys—mustard colored according to the very superstitious Aragonés—that did not seem to slow Spain down against Russia.
Now the only thing that stands in the way of Spain and breaking their “curse” is the Germans.
No matter what team lines up for Spain on Sunday, the game should be incredible. Both teams are world powers and the game should be a true slugfest.