Semi-Final preview: Spain v Russia

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Spain and Russia are one game away from Sunday's final.

This is for the first time since Euro 1984, Spain have at last through into the last four of a major international tournaments.

Meanwhile for Russia, this is their first semi-final since they were part of the Soviet Union in Euro 1988 and reached the final before defeated by the Netherlands.

Both teams already met in the opening Group D match as the Spanish side smashed Russia 4-1, but it should be a far tougher challenge from the Russians and a repeat is unlikely in today's match.

Russia's performance at Euro 2008 has set Russian football a major challenge to establish itself and to regain its position in European and international football.

Their resourceful Dutch coach Guus Hiddink said that his side play with technical skill and flair and it's always joyful to see that.

Their speedy, accurate and a wave of attacking improvement that culminated in a highly entertaining victory over Sweden and Netherlands.

This is an incredible achievement for Russia after a painful start in the competition when David Villa scored a hat-trick for Spain to give a humiliating defeat for the Russians.

Hiddink gave the players a hard time after that defeat, telling them to change their naive ways and focused on basic elements in defence, and that's improved a lot which they made an amazing amount of progress.

However, Russia's progress has much to do with the return of Andrei Arshavin, who did not play in the opening encounter against Spain.

The Zenith St. Petersburg forward was outstanding in the triumphs over Sweden and the Dutch, where his direct running, great ball skill and visionary passing tore through both defences.

Hiddink's main concern is the absence of suspended center back Denis Kolodin, who helped reorganise the defence into a unit that has conceded only one goal after the opening defeat.

Vasili Berezutskiy is likely to replace him and will partner with experienced Sergei Ignashevich to keep the defence under control.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Ivan Saenko and Alexander Anyukov all have slight injuries but should be fit to play in the semi-final.

On the other hand, Spain coach Luis Aragones has full 23 men available.

But Aragones, the oldest coach in the competition, insisted that he has no need to change his winning side.

He believes his team will win, despite Russia's improvement during the tournament and physically better than his side.

But Aragones need to mark his team's display as with each match, their build-up has become slower and their attacks less dangerous.

The goalless draw against Italy displayed the lack of variety in penetration and build-up play.

They also carry little aerial threat of their own defence at set pieces, though they handled Italy's Luca Toni pretty well.

After 24 years of waiting to see Spain return to a European semi-final, the players appear to carry out.

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres believes they will beat Russia for the second time while Iker Casillas is convinced that Spain can go all the way.

The Real Madrid keeper was very proud of what they have achieved so far and believe they will get to the final with the whole nation support them.

Spain are always tipped as dark horses in every major tournaments and for so many years they fail to meet the expectations.

They may have some of the world's most talented and technical players available, but a large dose of scepticism are there to bother them.

They are one of the greatest under-achievers and reaching the final this time would make a huge step forward.

Possible line-up
7David Villa 11Semak
8Xavi 15Bilyaletdinov 
9Fernando Torres17Zyrianov
15Sergio Ramos19Pavlyuchenko
19Senna 20Semshov

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