Euro 2004 qualifier
Spain 3 - Armenia 0
Michel Salgado, Iván Helguera, Marchena, Raúl Bravo; Albelda,
Xavi (Vicente 54'); Etxeberría (Joaquín 41'), Valerón
(Baraja 65'), Raúl; Diego Tristán. 4-2-3-1.
Group 6 table:
From our international correspondents Borja Pantzov and Goran Arsic.
Well here we are in the capital of Castlla-León, the lion's castle so to speak. It's a bit of a funny group this year, with so many new countries setting up all the time, and we are not sure if we could find Armenia on the map, nor say what country it was part of before. Let's face it, many people in Spain would like to do the same, Cataluña, the Basque country, Gallicia etc., etc., and the only thing that probably stops them is the thought that their local league seasons would be pretty short. Er Cataluña first division, lets see, Barcelona v Espanyol and that's about it. No matches against Real Madrid to get worked up about unless they get drawn in the Champions League, but at least they would qualify for the competition that way.
Anyway, treading on dangerous ground there, so lets get on with the report. Actually Armenia could be more of a problem than they look on paper. Everybody has assumed that we will win, but they did well against Northern Ireland (who didn't though?), and are a team who give everything. Our glorious manager has made a couple of changes from the side he put out against the Ukraine, most notably playing with the attack which finished off that game, Raúl, Diego Tristán and Valerón. Iván Helguera is back too after a one match ban, and Marchena keeps his place alongside him with Javi Navarro on the bench and César in the stands.
There are some jeers for the Israeli referee Alon Yefet who reported that Roberto Carlos hit him when he sent him off in the game between Portugal and Brazil, but this is soon forgotten as the match gets under way. Tristán and Raúl have a go, but the best chance falls to Petrosyan who breaks through but shoots wide. What a fright! And then Artavadz Karamyan gets a pass from Voskanyan but fails to control the ball in front of goal (do all the names in Armenia end in yan?). Things are not going to plan, and we suffer another blow when Etxeberría limps off just before half time.
That means though that Joaquín comes on, and soon after half time Vicente replaces Xavi. Now we have two wingers who can do real damage, and it soon pays off as Vicente crosses in from the left and Tristán is there to steer the ball into the far corner of the net, his first goal for his country in ten games. A small group of idiots light a flare, but the rest of fans boo them and they disappear fairly quickly. That could have cost us a fine! Sáez makes his third and final change, Baraja replacing a tired Valerón, and we keep up the attack. Tristán's shot is saved by Berezovski (is he really Armenian with a name like that), and from the next corner Iván Helguera meets Vicente's kick with a near post header down in to the net.
It's all over, a hard battle but we have won. Armenia's Argentina born player Bilibio is waiting to come on in injury time (no doubt that he wasn't originally from Armenia), but Raúl slides the ball through to Joaquín and he lifts the ball over the keeper for his first goal for Spain. The bost moment of the match and that makes things a bit better still, but it was not a great victory and we leave the ground a bit deflated. The papers as usual say that Sáez made a mistake playing the three attackers as they had no wingers. Funny, three days ago they said he made a mistake for doing exactly the opposite. Some people are never happy, but then that is what sells papers. We are well top of the group though, and if we beat Greece in June we can already start looking for hotels in Portugal. Goran's knees are still in a bad way so we are going home. See you at the end of the month for the friendly with Ecuador, (if we can find it on the map).