Friday, June 27, 2008

Sex Fabregas

Spain 3-0 Russia: Fabregas proves the inspiration
Superb Spain stormed into their first final in 24 years by rolling over in-form Russia at Euro 2008 in Vienna. On another wet night in Austria, Luis Aragones' men attacked throughout and scored second-half goals through Xavi, substitute Daniel Guiza and David Silva to claim their fifth win in as many games and set up a title showdown with Germany on Sunday.

The outcome prevented the Russians, who lost 4-1 to Spain in their opening game, from making their first appearance in the final since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Spain were on top at the Ernst Happel Stadion in the first half but had no goals to show for their efforts and, after losing the tournament's leading goalscorer David Villa to injury in the 34th minute, their prospects did not look bright.

Arsenal playmaker Cesc Fabregas, who converted the winning spot-kick to beat Italy in a penalty shootout in the quarter-final, came on and excelled just as Guiza did when he replaced Fernando Torres. Russia coach Guus Hiddink made one change to his starting XI with Vasili Berezutski replacing suspended defender Denis Kolodin. Spain boss Luis Aragones fielded his strongest line-up with Torres playing alongside Villa.

Spain came flying out of the traps and almost took the lead after just five minutes when Villa fed Torres inside the area but the Liverpool striker's close-range effort was parried away by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. Russia meanwhile, struggled to get past the Spanish defence. With 10 minutes played, Villa's right-footed effort from the edge of the area was saved by Akinfeev.

The Russians weathered the early storm and began to grow in confidence, with Roman Pavlyuchenko hitting a powerful strike that went straight into the hands of Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Andres Iniesta missed a golden chance to put Spain in front in the 26th minute when he was unable to control Xavi's clever pass into the area. Casillas came to the rescue for Spain on the half-hour mark, diving full length to palm away Pavlyuchenko's curled effort from the edge of the area. The Spanish were rocked shortly after, when star striker Villa limped off and was replaced by Fabregas. And the Russians almost took the lead seconds later.

Pavlyuchenko chested down Ivan Saenko's cross inside the box but fired wide, much to the relief of Casillas. But back came Spain and Ramos got past his marker before firing just wide of the near post. Torres should have put Spain in front before half-time. Having perfectly controlled Fabregas's pass, the striker could only manage a weak effort that proved an easy save for the keeper.

Spain picked up where they left off after half-time, and their efforts were rewarded five minutes into the second half. Xavi played in Iniesta down the left, before finishing his team-mate's cross from inside the box with a well-timed run into the box. Torres almost made it 2-0 shortly after, with his curled angled effort from Fabregas' assist going just high over the bar. Hiddink reacted to going a goal behind by making a double substitution with Bilyaletdinov and Vladimir Bystrov replacing Igor Semshov and Saenko.

But it was Spain who looked more dangerous.

Torres twice had the opportunity to double Spain's lead thanks to two sensational Ramos passes but the Liverpool striker could not hit the target. Aragones made Torres pay for those mistakes as he brought on Guiza to replace him. And the move was an inspired one as Guiza made it 2-0 in the 72nd minute. Fabregas played in Guiza inside the area who lobbed Russia keeper Igor Akinfeev.

With Russia offering little opposition, Spain continued to surge forward and put the game beyond their rivals' reach with nine minutes remaining. Fabregas' perfect ball found Silva inside the area, who fired past Akinfeev to start the fiesta for the Spanish fans. With two minutes left, Russia almost got a consolation goal but Casillas made a stunning save to deny Bilyaletdinov's header from Andrei Arshavin's cross.

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