Villa vanquishes Russians
Technical masterclass from Spanish secures 4-1 triumph
David Villa fired a terrific hat-trick as Spain opened their Euro 2008 campaign with an eye-catching 4-1 triumph over Russia in Group D.
Luis Aragones, who had the luxury of leaving Cesc Fabregas on the bench, watched on as his men carved the Russians open on countless occasions via some exemplary pass-and-move football.
Villa, currently contracted to Valencia, broke the deadlock on 20 minutes, tapping into an empty net after excellent work from Fernando Torres down the left channel.
Just before the break, Spain doubled their lead as Villa latched onto Andres Iniesta's perfectly-timed through-ball to slip an effort under goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
Aragones' side took their foot off the gas in the early stages of the second half, but they soon upped their game with Villa completing an impressive hat-trick, bamboozling his marker to roll home in the 75th minute.
And while Roman Pavluchenko netted a late consolation for battling Russia with four minutes remaining, the night was Spain's to savour as Fabregas capped a marvellous evening with a diving header from close range.
Villa, whose position in the starting line-up was the cause of some debate in the build-up to the event, gave the Russian defence an early suggestion it could be a long evening when he had the first chance of the game.
A pinpoint cross-field pass from Sergio Ramos found Villa unmarked on the edge of the area, but after showing good chest control, the 26-year-old, under pressure from Aleksandr Aniukov, sliced his left-footed shot wide with only goalkeeper Akinfeev to beat.
Russia created their first decent opening soon after when Aniukov got in behind Spain full-back Joan Capdevila on the left, but his cross into the centre was drilled wide by Igor Semshov, who will have felt he should have done better.
Spain then took the lead with a goal from nothing. Torres picked up possession after a Russia move had broken down and the Liverpool man, having raced goalwards got a lucky break of the ball against marker Denis Kolodin, before he unselfishly passed inside to Villa to slot into an empty net after Akinfeev had come out to meet Torres.
That was a blow for the Russians, who had not scored against Spain in their three previous meetings, but Guus Hiddink's men came within inches of an immediate riposte in the 22nd minute when Konstatin Zyryanov hit the woodwork.
A low cross from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov eluded a host of players as it skidded across the area before Zyryanov sent in a shot that rebounded back off the right-hand post with Iker Casillas well beaten.
Pavluchenko also struck the Spain crossbar with a dipping volley later in the first half, but it would not have counted as referee Konrad Plautz had spotted a foul by the Spartak Moscow man.
Aside from those two efforts, it was still Spain who were running the match and Akinfeev was proving much the busier of the goalkeepers and he was called into action to palm away shots from Torres and Villa.
The Russia goalkeeper could do nothing to prevent Villa making it 2-0 in the 45th minute though, when Andres Iniesta's slide-rule pass put the Spain number seven in on goal and he coolly finished under the diving Akinfeev.
The Russians started the second half in confident fashion and Casillas was called into action to save Sergei Semak's header, although the effort was straight at the Real Madrid custodian.
Villa had the chance to complete his hat-trick just before the hour when the Russia defence opened up in front of him, but his low shot was saved by Akinfeev.
With Russia pushing forward as they needed to, Spain were beginning to find plenty of space on the counter-attack and following one breakaway, which resulted in a corner, Marcos Senna and then David Silva both drew saves out of Akinfeev.
It was no surprise to see Spain net a third goal with 15 minutes remaining, and even less surprising to see it scored by that man Villa.
A slick Spain move in midfield resulted in the ball being fed out to Fabregas on the right and he immediately picked out Villa in the middle.
There was still work for Villa to do, but he saw off the challenge of Roman Shirokov before clinically slotting low past Akinfeev and then racing off to the Spain bench where he celebrated with the substituted Torres.
Russia had battled valiantly throughout the match, and they were rewarded for their endeavours when Pavluchenko thumped home a diving header four minutes from time.
However, it was Spain who had the final word when a breakaway led by Villa resulted in Fabregas diving to head home after Akinfeev had parried Xavi's shot, making it 4-1.