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  • 02:53 PM ET  06.14
Three things we learned from Spain’s thrilling 2-1 victory over Sweden in Innsbruck:

I love it when tired old national stereotypes get confounded. Nice to see that the terms Spanish mettle and Spanish teamwork aren’t oxymorons after all. I thought the Spaniards had let the ridiculous uncalled penalty against Sweden in the first half mess with their heads, but tournament MVP (so far) David Villa spun some magic out of a relatively harmless longball and sank the Swedes with his stoppage-time game-winner. Once again in this tournament an attacking team (Spain) is rewarded and a conservative team (Sweden, at least in the second half) is punished. Once again the forces of good soccer win out. Spain isn’t quite the juggernaut that Holland has been (who is?), but this is the sort of tough-it-out win that could do wonders for a team that has shown impressive chemistry despite having several good players sitting on the bench.

It’s time to give Spanish coach Luis Aragonés some credit. The first Spanish goal was a thing of beauty, a short-corner set-play that the coaching staff had to have put together on the training ground. Usually I detest short-corners, but this one involved a sweet little misdirection in which Villa cut the ball from the endline sharply back to David Silva, who had zero pressure on him as he delivered his cross to Fernando Torres for the goal. Great stuff.

The officiating inconsistency is only getting worse. I still can’t wrap my mind around why referee Pieter Vink didn’t whistle a penalty on Sweden’s Johan Elmander for barreling into Silva, knocking him over just as he was about to receive the ball with an open goal in front of him. Why, Elmander wasn’t even facing the ball when it happened! That’s a slam-dunk penalty in any game, but it’s even more of a head-scratcher given the extremely low threshold referees have had the past two days for awarding penalties for contact on non-goal-scoring chances in the box.

Through-balls: Nice to see two physically large center-forwards (Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Holland’s Ruud van Nistelrooy) show so many skills on the ball the past two days. Just because you’re a certain size doesn’t mean you have to fit a certain role (e.g., “target forward”) on the field ... So far Sergio Ramos may be the most overrated player in Euro 2008. It was Ramos’s curious decision to go to ground (and Iker Casillas’s botched save) that allowed a soft goal by Ibrahimovic. And it was Ramos who gave away silly fouls and failed to have an impact going forward ... Big concerns for the road ahead: Spain’s Carles Puyol and Sweden’s Ibrahimovic both left the game with injuries and didn’t play in the second half ... Swedish right back Fredrik Stoor got off to a terrible start in his first game, making a poor clearance to gift Spain the corner kick that would lead to its first goal. (Stoor compounded the error by falling for the Spanish misdirection play and failing to put any pressure on Silva’s cross.) But Stoor came back well, hitting the early-cross from the right to Ibrahimovic for the goal ... The only downside of HD broadcasts: having to see the thicket of nose-hairs sprouting out of Luis Aragonés ... Good to see The White Stripes’ Seven-Nation Army becoming the new song of choice for chanting Euro fans. It was about time something more recent replaced I Will Survive and Simply the Best as soccer anthems ... I’ve gotten several responses from U.S. readers who questioned why I called Kasey Keller the best goalkeeper in U.S. history in a recent column. Guys, you have to read more closely: I called him “the best SHOT-STOPPER,” not the best goalie. Keller was a better shot-stopper than Brad Friedel, although Friedel was much better than Keller with his feet. Give Tim Howard a few years and he could ace out Keller for best shot-stopper.

Do you think Russia or Greece has a chance to get out of this group instead of Sweden? Please post your comments below, and come back after Russia-Greece for another update of the Euro Blog ...

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