While the scoreline was a bit harsh, much like it was in the first game they played, this time there was no doubt who the deserved winners were. Spain outplayed Russia in the second half. Yes, the first goal made a big difference because it made the Russians come forward more and so there were more gaps in midfield and at the back for Spain to capitalize on. However, Russia really didn’t create many opportunities themselves. The best chance they had was off a free kick near the end of the game.
The first goal was not lucky – it was fortunate. It was lucky that Iniesta’s shot was way off target. It was a good, instinctive, pre-meditated run into space by Xavi and it was fortunate that his side footed redirect went between Akinfeev’s legs. Xavi does this all the time for Barca, especially this season, where he makes a late run into space and finishes off crosses. So, I will give him all the credit for the goal. After that, it was tough to imagine that the Russians would get back into it given that Arshavin and the midfield never really got going. Maybe Hiddink should have brought in another left back and let Zhirkov get up the field more often as he seemed to be the only one to get any penetration against Spain. Ramos had his best game of the tournament but I think a lot of it was due to the fact that Zhirkov didn’t have anyone in front of him and so had to stay home too often. Russia should have made Ramos pay for coming forward so much. Guiza and Silva finished off good set ups by Cesc once the gaps had opened up with the Russians having to press upfield in search of an equalizer.
Man of the match – Cesc Fabregas.
Some other observations:
Aragones, why won’t you start Cesc? Especially against the Germans, Iniesta is too slight to play in the midfield with Xavi. He also is not as good at starting moves – he is better in the last third. You need Cesc there to provide an alternative to Xavi else the Germans will put someone on Xavi to stifle the ball getting forward. If Villa is out (as he is supposed to be at the timing of writing), I would prefer you drop Iniesta and start Xabi and Cesc alongside Senna, Silva and Torres.
Also, Aragones, stop substituting Torres. He had two chances at goal in five minutes and looked good all game. He needs a goal for confidence. Why put Guiza on? Torres could have scored in the last 15 minutes and felt good going into the final. Whatever.
Still don’t like Puyol and Marchena in the middle. I have to believe the combination of Klose and Ballack in the air along with Schweinsteiger and Podolski’s quickness is going to give them problems. Get ready Casillas.
Ramos and Lahm. Look out Sergio because if you thought Zhirkov was problematic, Lahm is going to be even tougher for you since he has carte blanche to go forward just as you do, is low to the ground and cuts quickly and is backed up by Frings so you can’t just bomb down his side. Don’t foul Lahm with your usual tackling. Free kicks on the wing are exactly what you don’t want to give up.
Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Russia 1
Result: Spain 3 Russia 0
Scorers: Xavi Hernandez, Daniel Guiza, David Silva (Spain)
The Euro 2008 final should be great. I still think Spain will win but let’s see if Villa is going to play…