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  Results & Reviews: Match 02


Iberian favorite
Spain defeats Russia 1-0 on substitute Valeron's second-half goal

Call it an inspired substitution.

Barely a minute on the field, Juan Carlos Valeron scored Spain's first goal of Euro 2004 on Saturday for a 1-0 victory over Russia and a big step toward the quarterfinals.

The victory leaves Spain and Greece tied atop the group after the first day of the three-week tournament. Greece upset host Portugal 2-1.

It was the first time Spain had won its opening game in a European championship since 1988 and the result is likely to greatly boost the team's morale. Seeking to shed its tag as perennial underachiever, Spain has only ever won one international trophy, the European Championship 40 years ago against the former Soviet Union.

Substituting a disappointing Fernando Morientes, 

Group A 12 June 2004 1945 CET

Algarve, Faro Attendance 30,000


Valeron 60

Spain (4-4-2) Casillas; Puyol, Marchena, Helguera, Bravo; Etxeberria, Albelda, Baraja (Alonso 59), Vicente; Morientes (Valeron 59), Raul (c) (Torres 78).
Russia (4-5-1) Ovchinnikov; Yevseyev, Smertin (c), Sharonov, Sennikov; Aldonin (Sychev 68), Gusev (Radimov 46), Alenichev, Mostovoi, Izmailov (Karyaka 74); Bulykin.
Referee Urs Meier (SUI)

Deportivo's Valeron came on in the 59th minute and, within 36 seconds, he received a low pass deep into a crowded Russian area from the right by Carles Puyol. He stopped the ball and, instead of shooting immediately, moved deftly to the left before driving it past Russian 'keeper Sergey Ovchinnikov.

The goal lifted a cloud off Spain which had suffered for an hour against physically superior and compact Russian side. Fulfilling expectations, Russia played a 4-5-1 format, stifling the Spaniards creative moves and relying on snappy breakaway attacks.

"With Valeron, we had a bit more pressure," said Spanish coach Inaki Saez. "I couldn't make that substitution earlier because it would have been suicidal. We always make a substitution like that and it always works.

"It was a very competitive game," he added. "First games are always very difficult. In the second half we had lot of chances and we should have scored more."

Second half sub Xabi Alonso had a headed goal in the 82nd minute disallowed for a challenge on Ovchinnikov.

Vicente Rodriguez had an area shot blocked and Fernando Torres lobbed the ball over the post in the dying seconds. But otherwise Spain proved virtually unable to make another strike at goal after scoring, evidence of just how excruciatingly tight the match was.

Russia lost all hope of pulling level after Roman Sharonov got a second yellow card was sent off in the 89th minute for bringing down Torres, who substituted a worn out Raul Gonzalez in the 78th minute.

"I was disappointed because the players did not fulfill the tactics, " said Georgy Yartsev. "There should have been more long balls to (lone forward Dmitry) Bulykin."

Spain sparkled for the first 20 minutes with wingers Vicente and Joseba Etxeberria raiding from the flanks.

Raul, trying to made up for a poor club season with Real Madrid, almost scored in the second minute when he left-footed the ball across the goalmouth.

But as the match settled down, Spain seemed unable to extract itself from the spider's web the Russians mounted in midfield while central defenders Sharonov and Portsmouth's Alexei Smertin starved Raul and Morientes.

The east Europeans had to wait till the 24th minute for their first attempted shot at goal from Marat Izmaylov.

Russia resorted to fouling and got four yellow cards in the first half, three of them for fouls on Vicente.

"All the yellow cards put our defense under pressure," said Yartsev. "They were afraid of being taken out of the game."

In the 27th minute, Morientes attempted to control a ball sent into the box, but was pulled down by a Russian defender with Spanish fans calling for a penalty.

Spain came close again in the 36th minute when Morientes had a low header from five meters blocked by Ovchinnikov.

Aleksandr Mostovoi, who plays for Spain's Celta, tested Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas with a low, driving shot from the edge of the area moments later.

Spain came out attacking in the second half but they soon became bogged down again in the midfield while their crosses from the wings proved far too deep.

Then Saez made the magical decision to take off Morientes. Hardly had the player sat on the bench when Valeron had put Spain ahead and sent some 20,000 Spanish supporters packing the 30,000-capacity Algarve stadium wild with delight.

Russia had some support in the stands, which included Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.
- AP



  Group Standings

Group A

P W D L F A Pt
Greece 1 1 0 0 2 1 3
Spain 1 1 0 0 1 0 3
Portugal 1 0 0 1 1 2 0
Russia 1 0 0 1 0 1 0


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  Match Stats

1 Goals 0
0 Halftime 0
4 Corners 3
4 Offsides 0
12 Fouls 20
3 Yellow cards 6
0 Red cards 1
20 Free kicks 16
12 Shots on target 5
6 Shots off target 2
0 Woodwork 0
3 Saves 4
0 GL Clearances 0
58% Possession 42%



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