Ukraine, one of the tournament's dark horses, fell at the first yesterday as Spain underlined their thrilling potential with a performance that will have been noted by every other contender at this World Cup including Brazil. Especially Brazil. The champions are scheduled to meet Spain in the quarter-finals and on the form both teams have shown so far it would be too close to call.
Opening games can be misleading. Carlos Alberto Parreira has stressed that Brazil intended to hit the ground walking, working themselves up to a gallop as the tournament goes on. If Spain do the same they will be untouchable.
With a fluid front three, supported by a beautifully balanced midfield and a solid back four, the perennial underachievers finally looked as if they could translate talent into a trophy. David Villa, with a brace, Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso scored the goals but Luis Garcia, Xavi and the naturalised Brazilian, Marcos Senna, were just as influential. The only consolation for Ukraine was that Andriy Shevchenko completed his first match in months, though, for the involvement he had, Chelsea's new signing might as well have been playing in a training session.
Having waited until the sixth day of competition to play, Spain began as if suffused with pent-up energy. In the second minute Sergio Ramos could have claimed a penalty had he gone down under Andriy Nesmachniy's challenge but he kept his feet to pick out Xavi who dragged his shot just wide. Ten minutes later Marcos Senna was given time to shoot from range and forced the goalkeeper Olexsander Shovkovskiy to concede a corner. Xavi took it and Xabi Alonso headed in at the near post for his first international goal.
After another seven minutes Andriy Rusol brought down Mariano Pernia, a naturalised Argentinian. Rusol was booked, then he diverted Villa's free-kick past the wrong-footed Shovkovskiy.
Ukraine were being overrun. Nevertheless, Spain's third goal, which settled the tie, was cruel. Torres broke through the middle and although Vladislav Vashchuk had a little tug at his shorts on the edge of the box it was a minor offence in the context of the wrestling at set-pieces. The Atletico Madrid striker did not complain after Shovkovskiy saved his shot but Massimo Busacca was less forgiving. Vashchuk became the third player to be dismissed in the tournament. Villa converted the penalty.
The best was yet to come. Nine minutes from time Carles Puyol won the ball in midfield and surged forward, pirouetting to evade one challenge, before finding Torres. He passed to Cesc Fabregas - on as a substitute to become Spain's youngest-ever World Cup player - who chipped a pass forward to Puyol who had continued his run. The Barcelona centre-half nodded the ball into the path of Torres who volleyed in. Ole!
"Not only did we lose, we did not even put up a fight," Oleg Blokhin, the Ukraine coach, said. "All is not lost, there's still a long way to go." His Spanish counterpart, Luis Aragones, said: "Historically we have done nothing even though we have been at every World Cup for 30 years. This time we hope to do something. We can be among the top teams at this tournament."Reuse content