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Spain earned a comfortable 1-0 win over Russia, with substitute Carlos Valeron earning the points just 30 seconds after he came onto the pitch.

The win means that Spain join Greece on three points at the top of Group A, while Russia now face Portugal in their second match knowing that defeat for either team will bring a premature exit from the competition.

The match began with Spain in the ascendancy. Raul and Morientes looked sharp up front for Inaki Saez’s team and the Russians took several minutes to gain a foothold in the game.

Vicente, who was a constant danger on the left, was the victim of several spiteful challenges as the Russians attempted to quell the growing threat.

On 36 minutes the Valencia winger burst down the left and found Morientes whose header was well-saved by Ovchinnikov before Etxeberria scuffed the rebound with the goal at his mercy.

A minute later Russia launched their best attack of the half through Alenichev who skipped past three defenders only to see his deft chip parried by Casillas. Two minutes later the Porto man collected the ball from a short corner and again forced a save from Casillas.

As the half wore on Russia began to achieve parity as Spain began to run out of attacking ideas.

The pattern continued after the interval with Russia stifling the efforts of the more attack-minded Spanish team. Saez responded to the growing stalemate by introducing two substitutions on the hour.

Valeron came on for Morientes while Xabi Alonso replaced Baraja. The change brought instant reward when Valeron put Spain ahead within seconds of arriving on the pitch. Puyol, playing in the unfamiliar right back position, got behind the Russian defence to cross for Valeron, who controlled the ball with his first touch of the game, before planting the ball past Ovchinnikov with his second.

The goal appeared to demoralise Russia, who though workmanlike in midfield, lacked an outlet up front with the lumbering Bulykin never a threat to the Spanish defence.

If a second goal was to come, Spain looked the likelier scorers, especially after centre-back Sharonov was sent-off for bringing down substitute Torres on the edge of the Russian penalty area.

In stoppage time, Vicente and Torres had god opportunities to extend Spain’s lead but wasteful finishing ensured a tense finale.

Group A

Spain 1-0 Russia

Scorer: Juan Carlos Valeron 60

Red card: 13-Roman Sharonov (Russia)
Halftime: 0-0

Teams:

– Spain (4-4-2): 23-Iker Casillas; 5-Carles Puyol, 3-Carlos Marchena, 6-Ivan Helguera, 15-Raul Bravo; 17-Joseba Etxeberria, 4-David Albelda, 8-Ruben Baraja (16-Xabi Alonso 59), 14-Vicente; 10-Fernando Morientes (21-Juan Carlos Valeron 59), 7-Raul (captain) (9-Fernando Torres 78).

– Russia (4-5-1): 1-Sergei Ovchinnikov; 16-Vadim Yevseyev, 4-Alexei Smertin (captain), 13-Roman Sharonov, 17-Dmitry Sennikov; 22-Yevgeny Aldonin (3-Dmitry Sychev 68), 8-Rolan Gusev (2-Vladislav Radimov 46), 15-Dmitry Alenichev, 10-Alexander Mostovoi, 7-Marat Izmailov (5-Andrei Karyaka 74); 9-Dmitry Bulykin.

Referee: Urs Meier (Switzerland)

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