Spain isn't letting the absence of two key Russian players distract it from its European Championship preparations.
Group D rival Russia is without playmakers Pavel Pogrebnyak and Andrei Arshavin for its opening Euro 2008 match on Tuesday, and Spain _ already a heavy favorite coming into the tournament _ is talking down any chance that the extra advantage will play a significance.
"We have to think about Russia as being the same rival as before," Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta said Sunday. "We have to worry about ourselves and focus on ourselves rather than them. In this case, they are the important players for their team but Russia is itself a whole team and we have to worry about that."
Pogrebnyak, who led Zenit St. Petersburg to the UEFA Cup title last month, was ruled out with a knee injury on Saturday. Arshavin will also miss Russia's next match against Greece because of red card he got in European qualifying.
Spain, on the other hand, is riding high with a fully healthy squad in its bid to win its first major trophy since 1964.
Spain coach Luis Aragones is expecting Russia to sit back and wait to strike on the counterattack.
"They play a 4-5-1 in a way that usually sees them with nine men behind the ball," the 69-year-old Aragones said. "They have two very quick wingers and overall it's a good team."
Aragones said defensive improvements had been the focus through the first three days of camp. The team has been working on stealing possession away and keeping the Russian wingers from breaking out in practice.
"It has been proven that games are won by defending well and a quick counterattack. We don't have a defense like Italy, and I don't think we ever will, but we have improved in this aspect," Aragones said.
David Villa is expected to partner Fernando Torres in attack after recovering from a thigh injury and the two strikers _ who combined for 56 club goals this season _ will front a talented midfield led by Xavi Hernandez and wingers Iniesta and David Silva. The holding midfielder's starting spot could go to Marcos Senna rather than Xabi Alonso.
"(Coach) Luis (Aragones) hasn't confirmed whether I'll play or not, but I'll be ready," said Senna, a Brazil-born Spaniard who played at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
The only apparent problem in the Spanish team appears to be the lack of places available for such a deep and talented squad.
Cesc Fabregas, who is irreplaceable in leading Arsenal, is likely to be relegated to the bench because of Xavi's form in an attacking central midfielder role. Though the 21-year-old Fabregas said he would play wherever and whenever asked to, his frustration showed during Saturday's scrimmage.
"(Cesc) will always be important for Spain," said Iniesta, who was an FC Barcelona youth academy player at the same time as Fabregas. "It's important for him to feel comfortable. He's a great player and there's always a place for great players on the team."
The Spanish players spent Sunday morning in a closed training session at the team hotel. The wet weather, which has been constant since the team arrived last Thursday, meant games of table tennis and billiards, and watching DVDs, helped to pass the time before the match.
At practice, however, things are getting tense.
"The practices are getting much more intense, much faster and we're trying to get things ready," Iniesta said. "It's clear that that we want the competition to start already."
Spain plays Sweden four days later before closing the group against defending champion Greece.