Inspired sub seals Spanish win
By Alex Dunn
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
The Deportivo La Coruna midfielder, a surprise omission from Spain's starting line-up, arrived on the hour mark and finished with consummate ease to win the game.
Spain began the game with a vigour and attacking intent that made a mockery of their reputation as slow starters.
Valencia pair Ruben Baraja and David Albelda gave customary protection to their back four and in willing wide men Joseba Etxeberria and Vicente had pace and natural width.
In the first minute it was the mercurial Raul who fashioned the game's first opportunity.
Baraja's long ball from back to front was straight but Alexei Smertin, adjusting to his makeshift defensive position, was caught square and Raul, having worked a yard, drifted an effort just wide.
Vicente and Etxeberria were both being supplied adroitly by the raking balls of Baraja and on the half-hour, it was the Valencia man who proved the provider of the half's best opportunity.
Twisting Vadim Evseev inside and then out, Vicente worked his way to the byline and fed Fernando Morientes. The in-form Madrid man connected well but Sergei Ovchinnikov was equal to it and diverted the ball away.
Buoyed by their escape, Russia grew in confidence and immediately worked the ball forward and created their own first chance.
Porto midfielder Dmitri Alenichev showed wonderful feet on the edge of the Spanish box and having glided past two lethargic challenges, Iker Casillas was alert and managed to block for a corner.
Alenichev then found time on the edge of the Spanish box but his drilled effort was again saved smartly by Casillas at his near post.
The rest of the half saw both teams sparring in midfield but despite the continued efforts of Spain's exciting wingers, neither managed to fashion a further chance.
Etxeberria started the second period as he finished the first and it was his devilish delivery that found Raul - who met the ball meekly and pulled his header wide.
On the hour mark Saez had clearly seen enough from his goal-shy charges and made what was to prove the proverbial inspired substitution.
Xabi Alonso and Valeron were summoned from the bench and to some effect.
The imperious Carles Puyol broke on the overlap and when his drilled ball ended at the feet of Valeron, the sumptuous midfielder made no mistake from eight yards.
Taking the ball from his feet with his first touch, his second slammed the ball past Ovchinnikov in the Russian goal.
Having played the opening hour of the game with a defensive game plan that had in truth oppressed the Spanish attack efficiently, Russia had to commit forward but their attacking options looked rather blunt.
Instead, it was Valeron who was to become the principal entertainer - full of characteristic flicks and feints which Russia struggled to ever nullify.
Russia's response lacked precision and having been reduced to hopeful balls into the Spanish box, Saez's men controlled their counterparts with ease.
On the one occasion Russia breached Spain's backline, Albelda upended Dmitri Bulykin with a crude challenge that resulted in a deserved booking.
With three minutes remaining Russia's woe intensified when Roman Sharonov felled substitute Fernando Torres on the edge of the box and duly received his marching orders for a second booking.
Vicente and then Torres could then have sealed the victory but Valeron's effort proved enough to seal a deserved win for a dangerous looking Spanish side.
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