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Russia has to overcome key injuries when opening against Group D favorite Spain

Russia has to overcome key injuries when opening against Group D favorite Spain

Russia will have to overcome some key injuries and hold off the potent attack of Group D favorite Spain or risk seeing its 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 quarterfinals, 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 Tuesday'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 last 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) hasn't lifted a major championship trophy since it 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 it 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."
Villa is one of those. The Valencia striker was the standout player in Spain's 2-1 warm-up win over Peru and has a better scoring rate than Torres at the international level _ 14 goals in 31 games compared to Torres' 15 in 49.
The two strikers are fronted by a standout midfield that has seen Cesc Fabregas relegated to the bench. Quick touch passing and possession grown out of the middle four is the key to Spain's attack.
"It's clear we have to keep on doing what we have been working on, which is holding the ball, maintaining our rhythm. We have a good team and we have to exploit the players that we have," said winger Santi Cazorla, who is one of four midfielders vying for a place off the bench.
Spain comes into the match on a six-game winning streak, which is part of a 16-match unbeaten run stretching to November 2006. But statistics have provided little comfort recently.
Spain went into the World Cup on a 21-match unbeaten run but lost to France in the second round. It beat Russia 1-0 to open the group phase at Euro 2004 but drew 1-1 against eventual champion Greece and lost to Portugal.
Aragones said Spain will never match Italy's talent at the back, but he's happy with the improvements seen in training since two shaky warm-up wins where the team squeaked through against lesser opponents.
Creating _ and maintaining _ the momentum will be important.
"Winning the first game always brings lots of confidence and calm and it's obvious if you can't achieve it then doubts can creep in and complicate everything. It's a very important match," Cazorla said. "But we are taking it step-by-step. First Russia, and then the next one. Lots of people can think ahead to the quarterfinals, the semis but that's not good for the team."
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Associated Press writer Mike Corder in Leogang, Austria, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-12-03 19:39 GMT+08:00