Tue, Jun 10, 2008 - Page 18 News List

Russians missing stars for opener


Spanish striker David Villa rolls during a training session in Neustift im Stubaital, Austria, on Saturday.


Russia will have to overcome some key injuries and hold off the potent attack of Group D favorites Spain or risk seeing their European Championship campaign derailed from the start.

Russia coach Guus Hiddink has never failed to lead his team out of the group phase at the World Cup — the Netherlands in 1998, South Korea in 2002 and Australia two years ago in Germany. At his only previous European Championship, he led the Netherlands to the quarter-finals, where they lost to France on penalties.

The Dutchman will have to extend his streak without his two key playmakers — the injured Pavel Pogrebnyak and the suspended Andrei Arshavin.

Pogrebnyak, who scored 10 goals in Zenit St Petersburg’s run to the UEFA Cup title, was ruled out of today’s match at the Tivoli Neu stadium in Innsbruck with a left knee injury. Arshavin will also miss the next match against Greece due to suspension.

“They are two players who can make the difference if a game is hanging in the balance, they’ve proved that at European level. It’s like losing blood, a lot of blood,” Hiddink said. “I could keep complaining about it and using it as an excuse, but no, the players are the ones who have to solve the problem — show that everybody is replaceable.”

Pogrebnyak’s absence means Roman Pavlyuchanko should return to the lineup. The Spartak Moscow striker went a long way to helping the team qualify for Euro 2008 when he came off the bench and scored two second-half goals as Russia rallied from a goal down to beat England in Moscow in October.

Sergei Semak, who had fallen out of favor with Hiddink only to be called back from a two-year hiatus, is expected to be captain after playing a key role in FC Rubin Kazan’s surprise run to the top of the Russian league this season.

“Of course Spain is favorite not only in our group but in the whole championship,” Semak said. “But we can play good football too and if we play at our best we can win.”

La Furia Roja (The Red Fury) haven’t lifted a major championship trophy since they beat the Soviet Union in the Euro 1964 final at home. Living up to the expectations has always been a problem for Spain, which knows they must take advantage of a depleted Russia squad.

With Fernando Torres and David Villa — who combined for 56 goals this season — leading the attack, there is little reason Spain should emerge without a victory.

“If we all work hard, there is no reason to think we’ll lose here,” Spain coach Luis Aragones said. “Villa and Torres are very quick and possess a lot of quality and can score. It’ll be difficult for Spain to go one game without scoring.”

Torres is already a marked man.

“Of course we have special plans for Torres, but I’m not going to discuss them here,” Russia assistant coach Igor Korneev said. “He is a great player, but you mustn’t forget their other players too who are capable of winning a game at any moment. It’s not just Torres.”

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