Spain produced a wonderful second-half display to defeat Russia 3-0 and earn a place in the final of Euro 2008.
After a goalless first half, Spain struck through Xavi, Danny Guiza and David Silva to overwhelm a Russian side who struggled to compete with the fluid movement and slick passing of Luis Aragones’ side.
The margin of victory was the same as Spain had achieved in their opening group match win over Russia, but in many ways this was a more impressive performance against a team who had evolved into genuine contenders over the course of the tournament.
The result means that Spain reached have reached the final of a major tournament for the first time since 1984, and on tonight’s showing they will fancy their chances of ending their 48-year trophy drought.
Spain, showing no ill-effects from the 120 minutes of gruelling football they endured against Italy in the quarter-final, were the first to settle. Russia, meanwhile, perhaps wary of suffering a repeat of that drubbing, were noticeably less adventurous than they had been in their victory over Holland.
It took just six minutes for Aragones’s side to create their first decent opening when David Villa found Torres on the edge of the six-yard box, but the Liverpool striker was unable to get any power in his shot and Igor Akinfeev cleared with his feet.
Villa himself tested Akinfeev when he cut infield from the left before letting fly with a shot that the Russian keeper palmed away for a corner.
Arshavin, of whom much was expected after his impressive displays in the previous two matches, was struggling to impose himself on the game and it was his fellow forward Roman Pavlyuchenko who posed a greater threat in the first half. The willing striker was set up by the Yuri Zhirkov, but his curling left foot shot sailed just wide of the post.
Spain suffered a blow on 34 minutes when David Villa was forced to leave the field through injury. The leading scorer at the competition appeared to jar his leg after taking a long range free-kick. Cesc Fabregas was brought on in place of Villa, but his introduction necessitated a change of formation with Spain now adopting a 4-5-1 set-up.
As half-time arrived there was little to choose between two evenly-matched sides. Spain had shaded it on chances, but Russia were playing their part in an intriguing tactical encounter. Opportunities were at a premium, but there was much to admire and none of the sterility that had afflicted Spain’s quarter-final stalemate with Italy.
Five minutes after the break Spain were ahead. It was a goal created and completed in Barcelona with Iniesta cutting infield before crossing for Xavi to volley past Akinfeev from close range.
The goal spurred on the Spanish and within two minutes they could have doubled their lead when Torres was received a Xavi cross only to shoot over. The striker squandered further chances to extend Spain’s lead and he was eventually replaced by Danny Guiza.
Guus Hiddink rang the changes for Russia by introducing Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Dmitry Sychev, but with Arshavin anonymous throughout, the substitutes were unable to make any impact on proceedings. Perhaps, distracted by the lavish praise coming his way in recent days, the Zenit St Petersburg playmaker was off his game tonight, and without him, Russia simply didn’t function after the break.
It was the substitute Guiza who finally killed off Russia’s hopes of a comeback when he collected a beautifully-weighted chip by Fabregas and finished coolly past the advancing Akinfeev.
Fabregas, a growing influence on the game, was heavily involved in Spain’s third goal when he raced down the left touchline and set up David Silva, who took one touch before calmly stroking the ball past Akinfeev.
So, Spain, the perennial underachievers have finally come good. They face a battle-scarred Germany in Sunday’s final, but they produced enough in this performance to suggest that they will start the game as favourites.
Russia 0-3 Spain
Scorers: Xavi 50, Daniel Guiza 73, David Silva 82
Russia: 1-Igor Akinfeyev; 22-Alexander Anyukov, 2-Vasily Berezutsky, 4-Sergei Ignashevich, 18-Yuri Zhirkov; 17-Konstantin Zyryanov, 11-Sergei Semak, 20-Igor Semshov (15-Diniyar Bilyaletdinov 56), 9-Ivan Saenko (21-Dmitry Sychev 57); 10-Andrei Arshavin, 19-Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Spain: 1-Iker Casillas; 15-Sergio Ramos, 5-Carles Puyol, 4-Carlos Marchena, 11-Joan Capdevila; 19-Marcos Senna; 6-Andres Iniesta, 8-Xavi (14-Xabi Alonso 69), 21-David Silva; 7-David Villa (10-Cesc Fabregas 35), 9-Fernando Torres (17-Daniel Guiza 69)
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium)