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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Forget Defeat, Momentum Is Now With Russia

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VIENNA -- Spain hammered Russia 4-1 in the group stage of Euro 2008, but it should be a very different game when they meet again in Thursday's semifinal, with Russia transformed by the return of Andrei Arshavin.

Spain won the group encounter thanks to enterprising attacking, loose Russian defending and a David Villa hat trick, but it is the loser of that match that now has momentum on its side.

With each match, Spain's buildup has become slower and its attacks less dangerous. It barely threatened in its goalless quarterfinal with Italy, which it won on penalties.

However, Russia has gone the other way by tightening up at the back and surfing a wave of attacking improvement that culminated in its fully-deserved and highly entertaining 3-1 quarterfinal victory over Netherlands.

Suddenly, the June 12 opener in Innsbruck seems a long time ago.

"If we think Russia will be the same as the opening match, we will be very mistaken," warned Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas.

Russia's progress has much to do with playmaker Arshavin, who was suspended for the first two games, and striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who has rediscovered the form that played such a key part in his country making the finals.

Arshavin was outstanding in the 2-0 group win over Sweden and again versus the Dutch, where his direct running, great ball control and visionary passing tore holes in both defenses.

Three-goal Pavlyuchenko has regained his appetite for the fray, and the lightweight Spanish center backs will have to be on top of their game to keep a hold on him.

Free-running and sharp-passing midfielders Konstantin Zyryanov and Igor Semshov, together with virtual wing-backs Alexander Anyukov and Yuri Zhirkov, add still more threat.

"The way we play, with technical skill and flair, it's always joyful to see that," said Russia's coach Guus Hiddink.

Hiddink's main worry is the absence of suspended center back Denis Kolodin, who helped reorganize the defense into a unit that has conceded only one further goal after the Spain defeat.

Vasily Berezutsky is likely to replace him and, together with Sergei Ignashevich, must keep constant shackles on Villa and Fernando Torres to keep Spain at arm's length.

After its enterprising display in the opener, Spain has slowed its midfield play to the point where Italy happily sat with eight men behind the ball patiently watching Spain play a short-passing game that was neat but desperately lacking in penetration.

Coach Luis Aragones knows they have to find new ways to threaten if Spain is to progress.

"It will be difficult to surprise Hiddink, but we will try," he said.