- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

VIENNA, Austria (AP) | Please don’t tell Spain it has been made an odds-on choice to win the European Championship.

The Spaniards scored three second-half goals Thursday to beat Russia 3-0 and reach the final for the first in 24 years, giving the team a chance to shed its status as one of soccer’s biggest underachievers.

“For many years we haven’t won anything, while Germany is always up there fighting for the titles,” said Xavi Hernandez, who scored Spain’s first goal. “So I would say Germany is the favorite.”

Dani Guiza and David Silva also scored to give the Spaniards a shot at their second European title on Sunday at Ernst Happel Stadium. Spain, which won the 1964 European tournament, ended its run of five quarterfinal defeats by beating Italy in a penalty shootout Sunday. It confirmed its title aspirations with a penetrating passing attack on a slick surface in pouring rain against Russia.

“It was difficult, especially the first half. I think it was an extraordinary second half,” Spain coach Luis Aragones said. “That’s what we wanted, to be in the final. But there’s an adversary called Germany, that is going to be interesting.”

The Spaniards and Germans have not played a competitive match since a 1-1 draw in the 1994 World Cup. Overall, Germany has won eight of 19 meetings, with Spain taking five and six draws. In competitive games, it is 4-1-2 for Germany.

Germany beat Turkey 3-2 on Thursday night and is seeking a record fourth Euro title.

“This team is already making history, but we can do even more,” striker Fernando Torres said. “We’re proud of reaching the final, and against Germany on top of it all, which is a great rival.”

Spain will face Germany without striker David Villa, who was injured while taking a free kick in the first half. Villa, the tournament’s leading scorer with four goals, limped off the field and was replaced by Cesc Fabregas in the 34th minute.

Aragones said Villa will miss the final.

“It’s not serious,” the coach said. “He has a pull.”

Germany coach Joachim Loew was asked whether Spain compared with Portugal, which the Germans beat in the quarterfinals.

“Spain is a lot better than Portugal. It is a lot more flexible and not so predictable,” Loew said. “They keep the ball well in their own rows, and it’s very hard to intercept. The Spain team shows great ease, and it’s very economical.”

Xavi’s goal came in the 50th minute. He slid a ball through for Andres Iniesta, who eluded one defender before unleashing a shot from just inside the box. Xavi followed to side-foot the ball past goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev.

Two Spanish substitutes combined to make it 2-0 in the 73rd. Fabregas flicked a ball over the top of the defense and Guiza finished with the outside of his right foot, putting the ball high into the net.

Fabregas then slid a pass through for an unmarked Silva inside the box in the 82nd, and he ended any hope for Russia.

The Spaniards didn’t seem distracted by reports that Aragones was set to join Turkish club Fenerbahce as coach after Euro 2008. They were precise with the ball and staunch on defense all through the game.

“I think in the second half Russia tired a bit, and we were able to take advantage of that,” Torres said.

Spain, which beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the 1964 final in Madrid, has never lost to Russia in five matches, including a 4-1 win two weeks ago in the first round.

Russia never got its speedy, creative attack on track.

“Our team was physically weaker than Spain. When you don’t have the physical strength, it is tough to get through. You have to rely on tactics,” playmaker Andrei Arshavin said. “Today, Spain was more technically skilled than us.”

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