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Russia down but not out

Spain 1 Russia 0
Russia celebrated Independence Day with her first ever match against Spain, which resulted in an intriguing contest and a vigorously disputed game of football, Russia losing by the narrowest of margins and having everything to play for against  the disappointing hosts Portugal, who were given a lesson in football by Greece.

Line-ups

Spain
Casillas; Marchena, Bravo, Puyol, Helguera; Albelda, Baraja, Vicente Rodriguez, Etcheberria ; Raul, Morientes

Coach: Inaki Saez

Russia
Ovchinnikov; Smertin, Sharonov,Sennikov, Evseev ; Aldonin, Izmailov, Gusev, Mostovoi, Alenichev; Bulykin

Coach: Georgy Yartsev


Spain takes initiative

Spain pushed Russia back in the opening five minutes with some aggressive attacking football, Raul and Morientes going close with a shot each and Albelda and Etxeberria combining well down the right flank. Raul headed wide after 8’ and Baraja failed to control the ball on the penalty spot after 12’. The Russian defence was experiencing problems marking Spain’s free-moving forwards but settled down after the first quarter of an hour.

Russia settles down

After Gusev’s yellow card for a late tackle on Rodriguez, the first of six for Russia’s players, Russia began to settle into the game and play some good spells of possession football, the first of which culminated in Izmailov and Bulykin creating an opportunity on 15’, cleared by the Spanish defence.

End-to-end football

With both teams settled in, the contest began. The teenage winger Vicente forced Sharonov into a foul after 18’ and Marchena shot over from the free kick.  Five minutes later, Izmailov tried a shot from 30 metres out, which went wide of target. Spain answered with a corner.

Diabolical Vicente

22-year-old Valencia CF winger Vicente Rodriguez created panic in the Russian defence with his direct, probing runs. On the half-hour, another of his forays provoked the third yellow card for Russian defenders for fouls against him. This time the victim was Smertin, the Russian Captain. A minute later, Vicente Rodriguez slithered through three defenders like a snake to set up Raul, whose effort was blocked by Sennikov.

Spain attack in force, Russia replies in kind

Aldonin was shown the yellow card after 32’ for two consecutive fouls, a symptom of the way the game was developing. Raul and Morientes again tested the defence and after 36’, Ovchinnikov made his first save, blocking Morientes’ shot from 6 metres. A minute later, Dmitry Alenichev dribbled past two defenders and shot at goal from close range, Casillas blocking the effort.

The first half ended with mounting pressure being applied by Russia. Two corners in two minutes, after 37’ and 38’, Alenichev dribbled the ball into the area and fired a low shot, forcing Casillas to save at full stretch and again, saving from Sennikov after 40’.

Baraja was the first Spanish player to be shown the yellow card shortly before the whistle, which was heard with considerable relief by the Spanish players.

Spain back strongly from the break

Yartsev started the second half by substituting Gusev by Radimov. Spain came back from the interval determined to break the deadlock and Baraja forced a corner after 46’, resulting in his shot going wide. After 52’, Raul headed wide after finding himself unmarked in the box and Evseev had to bring down Etxeberria two minutes later.

Russia was forced to give away a series of three free kicks in two minutes after 56’ and 57’, demonstrating the growing pressure applied by Spain.

On the hour, Inaki Saez took off Morientes and Baraja, substituting them by Valeron and Xabi Alonso, a move which produced results almost immediately.

Valeron enters and scores

One minute after entering the game, Valeron broke the deadlock after 60’, controlling a low cross from Puyol, beating Smertin and smashing his left-foot shot past Ovchinnikov from eight metres out with his first touch of the ball.

Russia tried to recover, Mostovoi suffering two successive fouls, resulting in the booking of Marchena after 66’. Yartsev tried to increase the attacking front, pulling off midfielder Aldonin and bringing on the 20-year-old forward Sychev after 68’ and after 74’ Andrei Kariaka substituted the tiring Izmailov.

After 77’, Raul was substituted after seeing another shot blocked by Smertin, Fernando Torres keeping up Spain’s striking capacity. On 78’, Helguera and Torres had shots blocked inside the area.

Nail-biting finish

In the final quarter of an hour, Russia had a call for a penalty dismissed after Evseev’s shot was considered by the Swiss referee, Urs Meier, to be ball-on-hand and not hand-on-ball. After 82’, Xabi Alonso put the ball into the back of the net but only after an illegal challenge on Sergei Ovchinnikov.

Russia came back, Kariaka shooting wide from 25 metres. Albelda was the third Spanish player to be cautioned after a harsh challenge against Bulykin five minutes from time.

As Spain sought to put the game out of reach, Valeron and Vicente combined well down the left, almost setting up Torres with a chance. The same combination provoked fouls by Alenichev on Valeron and Sharonov against Torres, the first tackle earning him a yellow card and the second, one minute later, a red card by accumulation (88’).

Two shots from Vicente and two saves by Ovchinnikov marked the closing minutes, with Spain on top. Radimov earned the sixth Russian yellow on 93’ after a challenge on Valeron.


Match statistics

Spain                                          Russia

1                       Goals                     0
13 (4)          Shots (on target)       7(3)
4                      Corners                  3
16             Free kicks conceded     21
11                 Fouls committed      21
4                      Offside                  0
3                  Yellow cards             6
0                     Red cards               1
57%               Possession              43%

Man of the match: Vicente Rodriguez

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