Spain waltzes into final

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

VIENNA, AUSTRIA -- Spain will get the chance to destroy its image as a nation that comes to the big dance but remains a wallflower.

Last night the Spanish danced. Oh, how they danced.

Spain produced a second half that was classic ballet, a flow of movement that was accompanied by the rhythmic thumping of the Spanish fans, delirious over their team's success.

Spain scored three times in the second half to beat Russia 3-0 and will play Germany in the Euro 2008 final on Sunday.

Spain last appeared in the final in 1984, when it lost to France. Spain won at home in 1964.

It's been a long dry spell for a team that promises much and delivers little.

It took more than 45 minutes but La Furia Roja delivered like a Red Fury.

In a game played in a constant rain, with lightning snaking across the sky along with the loud crashing of thunder, Spain provided its own power and light show.

After a somewhat dreary opening half, the Spaniards took the game over, running Russia into the ground.

Spain was magnificent in the second half, producing the sharp, staccato passing that's become a trademark of South American teams. Spain did it as well as any of those nations.

The Spaniards would run to openings and the ball would find them. Three, four, five passes in succession would cut out the Russian defence, leaving Spain chance after chance.

It was hypnotic and beautiful to watch.

It wasn't that way in the first half, though. On a muggy night, neither team seemed to have the legs to cause the other a lot of trouble.

Russia, which has made its reputation in this tournament with speed and attacking football, couldn't find much of either. It became obvious that Russia was simply worn out.

Weeks of playing difficult games at such a high pace took its toll.

Even the dynamic pair of Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrei Arshavin didn't have any jump. They simply floated from place to place looking out-of-place.

It wasn't all good news for Spain, though.

Striker David Villa was injured in the first half after taking a free kick.

"Villa will miss the final," Spain coach Luis Aragones said. "It's not serious, but he'll miss the final because he has a pull."

Aragones pulled Villa and brought on Cesc Fabregas.

A move born of necessity became the key move of the game.

Fabregas became the link the Spanish needed. He took charge up front distributing the ball and creating trouble for the Russian defence.

"I am here when the manager needs me," Fabregas said. "We came here to win the tournament and we got to the final, which I think the most difficult thing. In the final anything can happen, a lot of things can influence the game. Right now we will enjoy tonight, the moment, then think about the game we are waiting for."

The real end for Russia came in the 50th minute.

With the score tied 0-0, Andres Iniesta carved open the Russian defence. It would never be close again.

Iniesta moved into the area and hit a hard, low cross in front of the net. Xavi Hernandez redirected it between the legs of keeper Igor Akinfeev.

At that moment, Spain began their victory dance, flicking the ball the breadth and width of the pitch with elegance and panache.

Russian began its dance of death, recognizing their amazing run was over.

Fabregas set up the next two goals, one to Daniel Guiza and the other by David Silva.

Both were works of art.

But while Spain must play with style and grace, its victory last night was in many ways delivered by force and strength.

Spain's defenders, particularly Sergio Ramos, were always first to the ball. When they couldn't get to the ball, they got to the player. It was the type of toughness that Spain has lacked in the past.

Now it will get a chance to display how truly tough it is taking on Germany, one of the toughest teams in world.

It is a game of contrasts between two of the best teams in the world.

It's a game that should produce a suitable ending to a wonderful tournament.


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