A David Villa hat-trick helped Spain on their way to an emphatic 4-1 win over Russia in the opening Group D game.
Roman Pavlyuchenko nodded a consolation for Russia but substitute Cesc Fabregas headed a fourth late on to seal an impressive start to Spain’s campaign.
The victory confirmed Spain’s credentials as serious contenders for the Euro 2008 crown and the ease in which the win was achieved will not have gone unnoticed by their rivals for the title.
Luis Aragones side looked impressive from the start with the midfield trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Senna stroking the ball around with consumate ease. Up front, David Villa and Fernando Torres look a potent strike force, combining movement, workrate and penetration as they gave the Russian defence a torrid time.
Russia, who contrary to coach Guus Hiddink’s pre-match claim that his side would attack from the outset, were content to sit back and play a game of containment. It was a high risk strategy, and in the early stages both David Villa and Torres had several sights on goal.
Torres, winning his 50th cap, cut in from the left and fired just wide of Igor Akinfeyev’s right-hand post. Shortly after, David Villa sent a left-foot shot over when he might have done better.
The early portents did not bode well for Russia and it came as no great surprise when the pair combined to put Spain ahead on 20 minutes. Torres dispossessed Denis Kolodin, raced through on goal before unselfishly squaring the ball for David Villa to roll into an empty net.
The goal prompted a brief response from Russia and Konstantin Zyryanov almost claimed an equaliser only for his shot to rebound off the post with Iker Casillas well beaten.
That was as close as Russia were to come in the first half and on the stroke of half-time Spain responded in devastating fashion to quell any signs of a fightback.
From a Russian corner, Joan Capdevila found Iniesta, who played a perfectly weighted pass to find David Villa, and the Valencia striker calmly placed the ball between the legs of Igor Akinfeyev to double Spain’s advantage.
Russia began the second half with renewed vigour, but their mini-revival was shortlived. Aragones introduced Cesc Fabregas in place of Fernando Torres as Spain looked to shore up their midfield, and before long normal service had been resumed with Spain’s passing and movement carving up their opponents almost at will.
As Spain began to reassert their superiority, a third goal looked inevitable. And so it proved, with 15 minutes remaining, David Villa collecting an inch perfect pass from Fabregas before outmanovering Roman Shirokov and wrong-footing the keeper.
There was still time for Russia to score a late consolation goal when Pavlyuchenko headed home at the far post, but in stoppage time, Spain broke again and Fabregas was on hand to nod home a fourth after Akinfeyev had parried Xavi’s volley into his path.
So, a comfortable start for Spain, and not for the first time their opening performance at a major tournament will have raised hopes among their followers that this could be their year. Historically, the Spanish have failed to live up to those lofty expectations, but there is a genuine feeling of substance about the2008 vintage and on this evidence, that familiar sense of optimism may not be misplaced.
Russia 1-4 Spain
Spain: David Villa 20, 44, 75, Cesc Fabregas 90+1
Russia: Roman Pavlyuchenko 86
Spain: 1-Iker Casillas; 15-Sergio Ramos, 5-Carles Puyol, 4-Carlos Marchena, 11-Joan Capdevila; 19-Marcos Senna; 6-Andres Iniesta (12-Santi Cazorla 63), 8-Xavi, 21-David Silva (14-Xabi Alonso 77); 7-David Villa, 9-Fernando Torres (10-Cesc Fabregas 54)
Russia: 1-Igor Akinfeyev; 22-Alexander Anyukov, 8-Denis Kolodin, 14-Roman Shirokov, 18-Yuri Zhirkov; 11-Sergei Semak, 17-Konstantin Zyryanov, 20-Igor Semshov (7-Dmitry Torbinsky 57), 15-Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, 21-Dmitry Sychev (23-Vladimir Bystrov 46, 6-Roman Adamov 70); 19-Roman Pavlyuchenko
Referee: Konrad Plautz (Austria)