Rafa’s Euro Column: Viva Espana!

ASF continues his translations of Rafa’s Euro 2008 column from Spanish newspaper El Mundo, here the boss reviews Spain’s 3-0 semi-final victory over Russia on Thursday and looks ahead to Sunday’s final with Germany.

i5th’¦and revalidation

Spain will play in a final again after 24 years. The national team, which continues to make history, beat Russia after a shaky first half but with great authority after the break. The goals by Xavi, who broke the deadlock, Güiza and Silva, after a good counter-attack, put an end to the resistance of Hiddink’s team, which ended up as diluted as a sugar cube in a cup of coffee. Only their target man, Roman Pavlyuchenko, showed glimpses of what was expected of them. On the other hand, the highly-touted Andrei Arshavin, who had all eyes on him, was not a shadow of himself and practically didn’t contribute much to his team’s play.

However, we reached halftime without any goals because both teams were very cautious. Spain, who did enjoy a higher number of chances although they had less possession, did not take advantage when they had the ball, especially at the start of the match. Then, Russia equilibrated the balance with some chances, but with the same sterile result. The usual change of positions between Silva and Iniesta was the most notable tactical nuance until the substitution of Cesc for the injured Villa. After the asturiano’s exit, Torres was the sole reference up front and Fabregas, who later demolished the opposition, helped to gain more control in midfield.

Xavi’s goal put Spain ahead at the start of the second half and Luis’s men were a bigger threat on the counter-attack while their self-esteem grew, which resulted on a better distribution of the football. Meanwhile, the Russian’s confusion was evidenced with two substitutions and the same number of yellow cards in a 10 minute stretch. The addition of Xabi Alonso and Güiza in detriment of Xavi and Torres seemed to respond to the idea of keeping the same profile in terms of style but looking for more precision by adding fresh players. Güiza’s goal, after good service from Cesc, certified all the fore-mentioned and sentenced the match.

That’s where the match practically ended. Curiously enough, the loss of the team’s top scorer, Villa, allowed the entrance of the man who, finally, would prove key for the victory, Fabregas. Spain passed with flying colours the semi-final test and next Sunday will vie for their hounour’s degree against a strong and potent team, with tradition, like the Germans.

By the way, referring to the other semifinal, where Germany went through, I’d like to comment that Turkey almost pulled it off once again. They were close to forcing extra-time and, they didn’t, because of that late German goal that they conceded on an action that I would like to touch on out of curiosity. The scorer was Lahm, a right-footed player that faced up Rustu from the left side of the attack. The normal thing in this situation is to shoot at the far post, but the attacking player shot hard, high and to the near post. Following the European school of goalkeeping, the Turk did the right thing more or less, which was to try to cover the most space possible although with no success. If he had gone for the South-American approach, especially in Argentina, he would’ve kept straight, with a knee on the ground and he would’ve likely stopped the shot. It’s not easy to handle both options, but I think it is a coachable aspect.i