russia rise as spain fade

VIENNA - Spain hammered Russia 4-1 in the group stage of Euro 2008 but it should be a very different game when they meet again in today's semi-final after Russia's fortunes were transformed by the return of Andrei Arshavin.

VIENNA - Spain hammered Russia 4-1 in the group stage of Euro 2008 but it should be a very different game when they meet again in today's semi-final after Russia's fortunes were transformed by the return of Andrei Arshavin.

Spain won the first clash on June 10 thanks to enterprising attacking, loose Russian defending and a hat trick by David Villa but it is the losers who now have momentum on their side.

Russia's progress has much to do with the efforts of playmaker Arshavin, who was suspended for the first two games, and striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who has rediscovered the form that played such a key part in his country making the finals.

Arshavin was outstanding in the 2-0 group win over Sweden and again against the Dutch, where his direct running, great ball control and visionary passing tore holes in both defences.

Three-goal Pavlyuchenko has regained his appetite for the fray and the lightweight Spanish centre-backs will have to be on top of their game to shackle him.

Free-running and sharp-passing midfielders Konstantin Zyryanov and Igor Semshov, with virtual wing-backs Alexander Anyukov and Yuri Zhirkov, add more threat.

Coach Guus Hiddink's main worry is the absence of suspended centre-back Denis Kolodin, who helped reorganise the defence into a unit that conceded only one further goal after the Spain defeat.

Vasily Berezutsky is likely to replace him and with Sergei Ignashevich must keep constant shackles on Villa and Fernando Torres to keep Spain at arm's length.

After their enterprising display in the opener Spain have slowed their midfield play to the point where Italy happily sat with eight men behind the ball patiently watching the short passing that was neat but desperately lacking in penetration.

Only when Cesc Fabregas comes on, usually after an hour, does there seem to be any zest and coach Luis Aragones knows they have to find new ways to threaten. - Reuters

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