Back home Spain is being brought to a standstill by truckers who have mounted a blockade in protest at rising fuel prices. Madrid and Barcelona are even running low on fresh food. Any fans who switched on the television yesterday looking for some relief found their nations' footballers facing a blockade of their own. This one, however, was swept away in little over an hour.
Guus Hiddink, seeking to replicate Romania's goalless draw against France the previous day, strung five men across midfield in a formation designed to stifle Spain. It worked – for 20 minutes. Then David Villa pierced the blanket and Russia folded.
Villa scored a hat-trick, the first at the European Championship since the Netherlands' Patrick Kluivert put three past Serbia in the quarter-finals in 2000. Cesc Fabregas scored the fourth in the final minute, killing off an improbable Russian rally launched by Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Villa is being tracked by several Premier League clubs and this treble – in front of watching Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger – is likely to result in Valencia receiving firm offers. He, though, was just the sharp end of a passing machine which took Hiddink's plan apart. Spain may yet disappoint their supporters again, but they looked very formidable on this evidence. Xavi ran the match, but he had willing assistance from every colleague.
If there are doubts, they are about the defence which was made to appear vulnerable at times by a Russian team which looked threatening when going forward, but out of its depth at the back. And it should be remembered they began the 2006 World Cup just as impressively before losing in the last 16.
This was the first match of the tournament in which both teams scored and it was helped immensely by the conditions. In the afternoon this Alpine city sweltered in thick humidity. By kick-off soft, drenching rain was falling, enabling the players to run more freely and the ball to skid slickly across the turf. With snow-capped mountains ringing the stadium and thunder and lightning erupting, the stage was set for dramatic acts.
The first came unexpectedly. There seemed no danger as Roman Shirokov strolled out of defence, but his pass was intercepted by Joan Capdevila whose first-time ball sent Fernando Torres away. He turned inside Denis Kolodin, drew Igor Akinfeyev, then squared for Villa to score.
Russia could have levelled immediately. Dmitri Sychev broke down the right and pulled the ball back. Two Russians let the ball go but the third, Konstantin Zyryanov, struck a shot against the far post.
Reprieved, the Spanish began to dominate but, with Akinfeyev smartly denying Torres and Villa, Russian confidence revived and they pushed forward again. It proved their undoing. From a short-corner routine Zyryanov overhit his cross. David Silva broke away then found Capdevila, who passed to Xavi. Villa slipped behind the disorganised cover on to his clever pass, and steered the ball between Akinfeyev's legs.
Hiddink reacted at half-time by bringing on Vladimir Bystrov, the flying winger who was omitted just a few hours after Arsène Wenger had picked him out a potential matchwinner. Bystrov was soon presented with a very good chance. Unfortunately it was a header, from well-worked corner, which he sent weakly to Iker Casillas.
Luis Aragones, the Spain coach, responded with an intriguing change. Torres, who had been playing as the lead striker, came off, to his evident surprise. Villa moved forward to replace him and the second striker role was filled, off the bench, by Fabregas.
Spain again assumed control and Villa, after wasting a couple of opportunities, completed his hat-trick with 15 minutes left. Taking a splendid pass from Fabregas, he turned Shirokov and scored his 17th goal in 32 internationals. "He would be amazing for the English league," Fabregas said of Villa. "I would like to have him in my team because as you can see he can make the difference."
In the dugout Hiddink looked as thunderous as the weather. Then Pavlyuchenko headed in at a corner. This looked to have eased Hiddink's looming need to lift his players ahead of Saturday's match with Greece and Russia were so buoyed they looked as if they believed they could draw level. Then Kolodin gave the ball to Villa, who advanced before deftly chipping a pass to Xavi. His shot was well saved but Fabregas headed in the rebound.
Hiddink blamed his own team's inexperience. "It's knowing when the fire starts and how to be firemen," he said. "We had a lesson in punishment and we have to be less naïve and more streetwise."
Spain (4-4-2): Casillas (Real Madrid); Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Marchena (Valencia), Puyol (Barcelona), Capdevila (Villarreal); Silva (Valencia), Senna (Villarreal), Xavi (Barcelona), Iniesta (Barcelona); Torres (Liverpool), Villa (Valencia). Substitutes: Fabregas (Arsenal) for Torres, 54; Santi Cazorla (Villarreal) for Iniesta, 63; Alonso (Liverpool) for Silva, 77.
Russia (4-5-1) Akinfeyev (CSKA Moscow); Anyukov (Zenit St Petersburg), Shirokov (Zenit St Petersburg), Kolodin (Dynamo Moscow), Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow); Sychev (Lokomotiv Moscow), Zyryanov (Zenit St Petersburg), Semak (Rubin Kazan), Semshov (Dynamo Moscow), Bilyaletdinov (Lokomotiv Moscow); Pavlyuchenko (Spartak Moscow). Substitutes: Bystrov (Spartak Moscow) for Sychev, h-t; Torbinsky (Lokomotiv Moscow) for Semshov, 57; Adamov (FK Moscow) for Bystrov, 70.
Referee: K Plautz (Austria).
Man of the match: Xavi.Reuse content