A scintillating hat-trick from David Villa gave Spain a clear-cut 4-1 victory over Russia in their first outing at UEFA EURO 2008™ and confirmed the immense power of the Valencia CF striker's partnership with Fernando Torres.
In a high-quality Group D encounter, Russia provided moments to indicate that Luis Aragonés's side may still be vulnerable at the back and gained consolation with Roman Pavlyuchenko's 86th-minute header. But Villa's second goal in particular was a stunning team move which may already be one of the goals of the tournament. Only the seventh player in finals history to score three in a game, the 26-year-old's treble was the first in a EURO since Patrick Kluivert's against Yugoslavia eight years ago. Villa then utterly stamped his class on the match, crossing for Xavi Hernández to volley and substitute Cesc Fŕbregas to head in the fourth in stoppage time.
Torres has always asked for a quick supply of the ball at international level and in the 20th minute he got it. Courtesy of a Joan Capdevila interception and a notable right-footed pass from the left-back, the Liverpool FC forward was left one on one with his marker. Torres used good upper body strength to put Denis Kolodin under immense pressure and when the Spaniard skipped clear he allowed goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev to try and dive at his feet before slipping the ball to the right, into the path of Villa who finished unerringly. Such was the drama of the contest that within seconds Russia nearly equalised. Their love of overlapping full-back play had already caused havoc in the jumpy Spain back line, but instead of Aleksandr Anyukov this time it was Dmitri Sychev whose right-wing cross drifted, agonisingly, across Carles Puyol, Marcos Senna and even Andrés Iniesta before Konstantin Zyryanov cracked the ball off the post.
Instead of daunting Spain, it seemed as if the players in red took their luck as an indication that this was their night. Within six minutes of Villa's first goal, he and Torres had created three outstanding opportunities – two of which needed smart blocks by Akinfeev. Russia, for their part, were fighting like terriers to impose themselves, repeatedly catching Iniesta in possession, and Pavlyuchenko even hit the bar with a left-footed shot though referee Konrad Plautz had already called a foul. Villa closed a sparkling 45 minutes with Spain's second, however, following a brilliant move. Zyryanov attempted an ambitious pass across the Spain box and David Silva ran to retrieve it, sparking a lightning-quick passing movement through Silva, Capdevila and Iniesta which left Villa sprinting into the box where he slipped the ball between Akinfeev's legs.
End to end
The introduction of Vladimir Bystrov for Sychev made an impact as Russia sought a way back. Guus Hiddink's men pushed forward relentlessly and Bystrov's header from Zyryanov's cross in the 51st minute brought Iker Casillas into action before Diniyar Bilyaletdinov shot narrowly wide eight minutes later. However, Spain were irrepressible. Fŕbregas came on for Torres as Aragonés chose to rest his striker and give the Arsenal FC man a taste of the action. Villa almost had his hat-trick in the 66th minute but was prevented by a superb Anyukov tackle, yet the forward did not have to wait much longer. With 15 minutes left, he turned Roman Shirokov inside out and finished expertly with his right foot. It was just that Russia's commitment to attack eventually won some reward in the final minutes. Zyryanov, culpable for the second goal but Hiddink's best player, took a corner which Shirokov nodded on and Pavlyuchenko headed in at the back post. Even then Villa had the last word, though, creating Spain's fourth and Fŕbregas's first for his country.