As the rampant electrical storm over Vienna fades this evening, so do the hopes of a rejuvinated footballing nation. The Russians, who have provided us with so many moments of excellent football and from which one of the stars of the tournament has emerged, limped to a defeat this evening that was difficult to watch against a rampant Spanish side.
After watching Andrei Arshavin ghost his way past the Dutch in Basel it was difficult to imagine you were watching the same player as he put in a virtually anonymous shift against the Spanish in Vienna. The little maestro's reputation goes before him all of a sudden and it was plain to see the frustration as he tried to do too much against claustrophobic Spanish marking on a number of occasions when the easy pass was available. Pavlyuchenko was also ineffective after a bright start as Russia faded out of the game. For Arshavin perhaps it was partly psychological. Perhaps the pressure of suddenly being the most talked about talent in the world game was too much on the night for the diminutive Russian forward. Though Arshavin's class remains undeniable, his performances against Sweden and the Netherlands were genuine displays of footballing artistry and wherever he ends up next season he will undoubtedly continue to influence games with his stylish brand of football.
He could certainly glean a few pointers from his Spanish counterparts who gave the disappointing Russians a masterclass this evening. The lightning quick runs forward and pinpoint passing of their midfield exposing the Russians. Shorn of their top scorer David Villa, who was removed injured after a muted opening half an hour, the arrival of Cesc Fabregas sparked the Spanish into life. Looking at Fabregas' effectiveness every time he has appeared for Spain this tournament it would be criminal should he not start against the Germans in the final. The interchanging of positions between Xavi and Fabregas in their support of Torres, who again looked lively and dangerous until his subsitution (presumably in order to rest him for the final) in the 70th minute, was crucial and the Spaniards' five man midfield stifled and frustrated the talented and usually so creative Russians. Thunderous tackles from the accomplished Senna kept the Russian midfield struggling for time on the ball throughout the game and in attack they were fluid and clever enough to exploit to space left by the marauding Russian fullbacks to great effect.
Spain roll on to face what looked a sluggish German side against the Turks in their semi finals and must fancy themselves after such an assured performance against a team that were billed as potentially very difficult to get past. As we have learned even within the confines of this tournament however, the Germans are never to be written off.
Who do you fancy for the final? Is Arshavin 'all that'? Fabregas to start in the final? If so should Spain move to 4-5-1 to accomodate him or replace someone in the midfield and keep Villa with Torres up top?