While this is a toss up, I pick Spain to beat Russia. Pundits have commented on how Spain seems to have slowed down while Russia has picked up their speed and look like world beaters. Yes, Spain slowed down, but a lot of it was down to playing against the Italians and their catenaccio system of play. In fact, I would suggest that Spain needs to play at a slower tempo so as not to give Russia gaps to exploit in the Spanish half and to negate Russia’s late game fitness edge.
Forget about the first game. As I said then, Russia was in that game and if they had put away one of their early chances, it would have been a very different game at 1-1. The final scoreline is irrelevant and the Russians didn’t have Arshavin or a firing Pavlyuchenko. I believe this game will be decided by three factors. The absence of Kolodin is a big loss and one that is going to hamper the Russians’ ability to keep Villa and Torres in check. Torres is due. Another key battle is how well Ramos and Capdevilla deal with Arshavin. I think they are faster than the Dutch defenders and so should be better capable – they have also been forewarned that Arshavin is a real player. Ramos also needs to concentrate on staying home as Arshavin will be backed up by an overlapping Zhirkov on the left wing. Finally, Spain needs to put Cesc in from the start. They need his drive and two way play. If he starts instead of Iniesta, Spain have a better chance of winning the midfield battle and it will give Xavi more room.
Arragones, please listen to me. Start Cesc for Iniesta. Silva did well, so I am okay with him starting, but you need Cesc to help Senna and Xavi out.
Hiddink, I have nothing to tell you. You are the best at the international game right now. Good luck.
Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Russia 1
Wouldn’t be surprised if this went to extra time though I doubt it will go to penalties. I just can’t believe that Spain will crash out again to a Hiddink team after the heartbreak in Korea in 2002…
Here are the links to the blogs from the first Spain v Russia matchup in group play