Three thoughts after Spain’s 3-0 win over Russia set up Sunday’s Euro 2008 final between the Spaniards and Germany:
• Man of the Match: Spain’s Cesc Fàbregas. Most national teams would have been stricken with horror when a player of David Villa’s quality left the game with an injury in the 35th minute. Not Spain, which simply replaced him with Arsenal star Fàbregas, whose brilliant assists on the second and third Spanish goals blew this game apart. With so much talent on the bench, Spain’s B-team might have gotten out of the group stage on its own. And while I’ve been critical at times of Luis Aragonés’s player decisions (no Fàbregas as a starter? Yanking Fernando Torres for Dani Güiza?) he seems to be pulling the right strings and getting the best chemistry possible out of his team. Even if Villa isn’t available for Sunday’s final, going with Fàbregas in a 4-5-1 provides no real drop-off.
• Who cares if Spain wasn’t trying to do that? A goal is a goal is a goal. Let’s be honest: It sure looked like Andrés Iniesta was shooting instead of passing (and shooting way wide right at that) when Xavi ran in to redirect the ball into the goal on Spain’s first strike. And it sure looked like David Silva (and not Güiza) was the target of Fàbregas’s lovely pass before Güiza scored Goal No. 2. But soccer isn’t billiards, and you should be rewarded when players with attacking mind-sets put themselves in positions to do damage. That’s exactly what Xavi and Güiza did, and it made the difference in the game.
• Let’s hear it for Brazilian-born defensive midfielders. A day after Turkey’s Mehmet Aurélio completely shut down Germany’s Michael Ballack, Spain’s Marcos Senna put on a clinic, taking Russian star Andrei Arshavin out of the game (with the considerable help of the Spanish back line, most notably Carles Puyol). Senna has been a perfect fit with this Spanish midfield, providing the stability and bite that his attacking colleagues have needed to work their magic. Senna and Aurélio sure don’t belong to the samba school that Brazilian soccer is known for, but they’re two of the toughest d-mids around.
Through-balls: Spain’s Sergio Ramos has had two straight impressive performances after a rough start to the tournament. He got forward several times and had a role in Goal No. 2, but he also did a defensive number on Russia’s dangerous left back Yuri Zhirkov ... If Villa does miss the final after a freak free-kick injury, that would be a shame. The leading scorer of Euro 2008 should have a crack at playing in the final if at all possible ... Separated at Birth: Russian goalie Igor Akinfeev and actor Frankie Muniz ... What is it with sports broadcasters (Adrian Healey, Billy Packer, Jeff Van Gundy) who fall all over themselves to say a game is indisputably “over” before the final whistle/buzzer? Advertisers must cringe, and (more importantly) we’ve seen plenty of evidence in Euro 2008 (and in other sports) this year that a game is never over until it really ends ... With Roberto Donadoni being fired by Italy, do you think France’s Crazy Ray Domenech might be next? ... If Aragonés (69 years old) is being replaced as Spain’s coach by Vicente del Bosque (57 years old), does that mean the next coach after that will be ex-Brazil coach Mário Zagallo (77 years old)? What’s up with all the old codgers, Spain?
Who do you like between Spain and Germany? Will Arshavin be a club success in Spain or England—or a flash in the pan? Please post your comments below and come back Friday for the next edition of the Euro 2008 Blog ...