Spain flexes its muscle

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:55 PM ET

INNSBRUCK -- Spain are exactly what everyone expected them to be.

Whether that's good enough to win, is still debatable.

They surprised no one with their outstanding offensively ability.

They surprised no one with their flaws on defence.

It's no surprise that after a 4-1 defeat of Russia and they remain among the favourites to win the 2008 Euro tournament.

It was the first game for both teams in Group D play, the last group to get underway.

It's a stage in which Spain hopes to shed its image of underachievement. They performed well in the first act.

The man who stole the show though is hoping his performance here will place him among the top strikers in the world.

David Villa took large steps toward that recognition yesterday, scoring three goals with a hand in the fourth.

Villa's also demonstrated a snake-like ability to find open spaces and makie himself available to his teammates. He certainly knows what to do with the ball when he gets it.

He also shows some bite to his game as well as petulance, something he'll have to watch if he wants to avoid bookings.

There have always been questions surrounding Spain's ability to get along in the dressing room.

Whether this team will be any better remains to be seen but it became evident early on in this game that at least on the field, Villa and strike partner Fernando Torres will be able to play with each other.

Torres, who was substituted for early in the second half, provided more service for Villa than the other way around but Torres appeared happy to do it.

"I'm happy with the way we played and I'm happy to score," Villa said. "It's good to start with a win. It gives us confidence."

Villa's first goal was all Torres. He relieved the ball from Russian Denis Kolodin in the penalty area. His push off to Villa left the Spaniard with nothing but an empty net.

The second goal was typically Villa. He timed his run along the Russian backline until Andres Iniesta found him with a perfect pass. Villa beat Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev with a low shot. It came right at the end of the first half.

His third came when the surprisingly strong Villa, fighting off Roman Shirokov at the edge of the Russian area, then turned him inside out to beat Akinfeev with another low shot.

Cesc Fabregas added the fourth after Roman Pavlyuchkenko cut the Spanish lead to 4-1.

The game was played in a steady rain in a beautiful setting that wasn't so beautiful for Russia.

It wasn't the kind of quick-passing, fast moving pace that one expected from La Furia Roja. They took their time moving the ball around sometimes hanging on to the ball too long.

But when they did break, they broke quickly.

While their strikers play on a different plane than the Russian's, even a sub-par Russian team created problems for the Spanish defence.

Russian coach Guus Hiddink said his team's youth lead to "naive mistakes." He wouldn't listen to criticism of his defence.

"They weren't defensive mistakes, they were experience mistakes," he said. "Anyone who just looks at the score and didn't see the game would think Spain had great superiority."

Hiddink saw what many people saw, that Spain can be punctured defensively.

He also said he would like to see how Spain reacts when they play a superior team.

For a guy who won 4-1, coach Luis Aragones was not happy.

"I was very happy we scored goals," he said. "But we were lucky early in the game. Only after we made it 1-0 did we do more damage."

Aragones wanted more from his midfield.

"It wasn't good. We have to find better balance. We will have tests," he said.

With Greece and Sweden around the corner, those tests will only get harder.


Videos

Photos