Spain: Casillas; Puyol, Marchena, Iván
Helguera, Raúl Bravo; Albelda, Baraja (Xabi Alonso 59');
Etxeberría, Raúl (Fernando Torres 78'), Vicente; Morientes
(Valerón 59'). 4-2-3-1.
Russia: Ovchinnikov; Evseev, Smertin, Sharanov, Sennikov; Aldonin (Sychev 67'); Gusev (Radimov 46'), Mostovoi, Alenitchev, Izmaylov (Karyaka 74'); Bulykin. 4-1-4-1.
1-0. 60. Valerón. Controlled cross from Puyol and hit shot on turn past keeper.
Group A :
Greece.................. 3 points
Spain..................... 3 points
Portugal ............... 0 points
Russia................... 0 points
Spain got the victory they wanted in their opening game of Euro 2004, although it was not as easy as they expected and they only won thanks to a second half strike from substitute Valerón, who had only been on the park for less than a minute when he scored. Iñaki Sáez was able to count on his first choice line up (except for the injured Salgado who had already been replaced in the squad by Capdevila), injuries to Vicente, Albelda and Raúl Bravo midweek turning out to be not as serious as thought. And news that Russia's first choice central defenders Onopko and Ignashevich had been left at home due to injuries and replaced by midfielders Smertin and Sharanov gave the 15,000 or so travelling fans hope that this would be an easy start to the championship.
The news that host Portugal had lost their opening game to Greece was a double edged sword, theoretically giving Spain an earlier passage but also meaning that the next two games would be more difficult than expected, the Greeks having already finished ahead of Spain in their qualifying group and the Portuguese now virtually obliged to go flat out against their neighbours to qualify. A victory was now a necessity to approach those two matches with something of an advantage, and "La Selección" set off with a vengeance, Raúl shooting just wide and Morientes having a shot blocked by Shoronov with only three minutes on the clock.
Things settled down a bit after that, but Vicente was a constant menace down the left wing, and ten minutes before the break he set up Morientes for a header which Ovchinnikov pushed away, Etxeberría somehow mis-kicking with the goal at his mercy on the rebound. However Russia were gradually getting in to the game, and Casillas had to be at his best to make saves from Alenichev (twice) and Aldonin before the break.
Spain came out strongly again after the restart, with Baraja having a shot blocked in the first minute and Raúl putting a free header wide soon afterwards. But with Russia defending well Sáez decided to make his first changes, Valerón and Xabi Alonso coming on for Morientes and Baraja. It turned out to be an inspired move, and only 36 seconds later Puyol got free down the right wing and sent in a low cross. Etxeberría stepped over the ball, and there was Valerón to control it and turn his defender before crashing a shot wide of Ovchinnikov.
After that Yartsev threw on all his fire power and there were some anxious moments for the Spanish fans, especially when the ball hit Marchena on the arm in the penalty area from point blank range, referee Urs Meier deciding that it was accidental. Raúl went close before being replaced by Fernando Torres, and Xabi Alonso got the ball in the net only for it to be ruled out for a foul on the keeper. And after the Russians were left with ten men when Sharanov picked up a second booking, Vicente and Torres could both have increased Spain's lead.
There was a sigh of relief though when Meier blew the final whistle, and Sáez had got the result he wanted. A draw in the next two matches will take them through to the quarter finals, but the manager will want to beat Greece to be able to rest some of his key men for the later stages. It has been a long season, and in the heat of the evening there were some tired faces at the end.