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Spain Face Swashbuckling Russians With Place in Final at Stake

Spain's players and coach are not using the 4-1 demolition of the Russians as a yardstick for the coming semi-final against Guss Hiddink's team. Russia have grown into the tournament and are a threat worthy of respect.

A Spanish fan gestures prior to the group D match between Greece and Spain

Spain fans hope their team can take the Russian bull by the horns in the semi-final clash

Surprise package Russia have certainly played their part in making Euro 2008 one of the most entertaining events in the tournament's 48-year history, as Guus Hiddink's side swashbuckled their way to a last-four date with Spain.

Apart from a 4-1 opening-game drubbing by their opponents in Thursday's semi-final in Vienna, Russia have been a revelation at Euro, outclassing Greece and Sweden in the group phase before downing a fancied Netherlands 3-1 in the quarter-finals.

Attacking duo Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrei Arshavin have become virtual household names overnight as Russia have taken Austria and Switzerland by storm.

"Russia have come a long way," admitted Hiddink, "but before the game against Holland no one knew the names of my players."

Hiddink's young side is unrecognizable from the team that lost to Spain, a game for which Arshavin was suspended, and the Dutchman is confident his players can continue their improvement.

"Russia reacted after this game and I hope on Thursday we will also show a reaction," he said.

Spain's central-defensive pairing of Carlos Marchena and Carles Puyol will be given the task of shutting out Russia's strike-force with midfielder Marcos Senna expected to put in a similar non-stop performance to the one he gave against Italy to ensure Luca Toni remained scoreless.

"Arshavin and his team-mates played strongly against the Dutch. We are warned and must be on our guard," said Senna.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

Spain's head coach Luis Aragones, center left, speaks to his players prior to the first extra time during the quarterfinal match between Spain and Italy

Aragones has faith in the side which has gotten this far

Coach Luis Aragones described Russia as a "complicated opponent" but added that Spain would not be changing how they play. "Of course we will try to prevent them from playing to their main strengths, but we are going to play our style of football because, after all, it has taken us this far," said the 69-year-old.

"With the speed present in the Russian team we have to know how to stop them and where to cover, otherwise we will experience problems,” he added. "But my squad is convinced that they can make the final and then anything could happen. We came here to win the tournament if possible. To win is beautiful."

While Spain look to contain Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko, Hiddink needs to figure out who can best replace the suspended Denis Kolodin in defense alongside CSKA Moscow's Sergei Ignashevich.

Vasily Berezutsky, also of CSKA, is likely to get the nod to partner Ignashevich ahead of Roman Shirokov, who has not played since the loss to Spain.

Hiddink will also be without suspended attacking midfielder Dmitri Torbinski while Ivan Saenko is struggling to recover from a calf injury in time.

Aragones plans to remain loyal to the starting line-up that has taken Spain to the semi-finals.

Team that thrashed Russia likely to start

Spain's David Villa, third form left, scores the opening goal during the group D match between Spain and Russia

Torres and Villa tore Russia apart in the 4-1 Group D mauling

The theoretical starters for the game against Russia, as seen in recent training sessions, were keeper Iker Casillas, with Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Carlos Marchena and Joan Capdevila in defense. Marcos Senna, Xavi, David Silva and Andres Iniesta held the midfield positions, with Fernando Torres and David Villa upfront.

That same team beat Russia 4-1 in the group phase of the Euro and drew 0-0 against Italy in the quarterfinals, when Aragones' men advanced in the penalty shoot-out.

Aragones also focused on free kick throws and corner kicks, in both defensive and attacking positions, after both Russia and Greece managed to score against Spain in such circumstances.

"We have no injuries, the team is doing fine, and we think it is the team that can perform best, with some variants, like playing with one striker or two," Aragones said. "They are performing well, and when things work out you should not touch them."

However, he also praised substitutes, who beat Greece in the first round: "Sometimes I say, 'Who is better, these or the others?'"

Russia now a "winning team" says Aragones

The Spanish coach stressed that Russia would be a real threat as they had "become a winning team."

Russia's Andrei Arshavin, right, celebrates with fellow team members after scoring his side's second goal during the group D match between Russia and Sweden

Russia has the youngest - and fastest - squad at Euro 2008

"They have tremendous counter-attacking speed that we will have to contain, and in the physical aspect it is the best team of all of us that are playing," he said. "But I have full confidence in the team and in the belief that we will come out on top. It will be a terrible effort, but I am confident on going through to the final."

Aragones refused to give striker Andrei Arshavin all the credit for Russia's success. "There are four or five really impressive players, like (Yuri) Zhirkov or (Roman) Pavlyuchenko," Aragones insisted. "We have to know where to put pressure to take the ball from them and cause them the necessary damage."

The Spanish players have also spoken of the huge expectations that have been placed on them.

Spanish feeling but revelling in the pressure

Left-back Joan Capdevila said that he knew the whole country was behind them and supporting them. "We can't let them down and we can't pass this opportunity up."

Sergio Ramos, right, reaches for the ball as Russia's Igor Semshov looks on during the group D match between Spain and Russia

Ramos kept the Russian attack at bay in the group stage

His team-mate Sergio Ramos said that it was a motivating factor to see the interest that the team's progress had made. "We are aware that we have had similarly good players, but have never made it right to the end. This is an excellent opportunity."

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta said that the whole team was looking forward to the semi-final match. "It is a moment to enjoy for all."

Ramos said that the team would go into their game against Russia, whom they beat 4-1 in the group phase, without underestimating their opposition.

"One performance does not say anything about a team. They have shown at this tournament that they are a good side. Their performance against the Dutch was excellent. They know how to move the ball around; they know how to move forward. We will try to attack their weaknesses. It will be a totally different game."

Capdevila agreed with Ramos. "The semi-final will be nothing like the first game. It is an advantage for us though that we already know them."

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