An inspired substitution from coach Iñaki Sáez helped Spain get their UEFA EURO 2004 campaign off to a perfect start as Juan Carlos Valerón came off the bench to score with virtually his first touch and seal three important points in Group A.
With Greece unexpectedly defeating hosts Portugal earlier in the day, both sides knew victory would make qualification for the quarter-finals a distinct possibility. However, in the event Valerón's cool finish on the hour proved enough, while Russia ended with ten men as Roman Sharonov was dismissed for a second yellow card late on.
Spain lined up as expected after David Albelda shook off a muscle strain to link up with Valencia CF team-mate Rubén Baraja in midfield, while Joseba Etxeberria, Raúl González and Vicente formed an attacking trio behind Fernando Morientes. Russia adopted a more cautious approach, with coach Georgy Yartsev opting for Dmitri Bulykin as a lone striker, allowing winger Rolan Gusev to come into a five-man midfield.
Spain started at a ferocious pace and had Russia's reorganised defence under pressure as early as the third minute. Baraja's pinpoint pass found Raúl in space in the penalty area but the striker shot wide of the far post. Russia were soon stretched again as Raúl threaded a pass through for Morientes but Sharonov blocked his left-foot shot.
Spain continued to dominate territorially but Russia slowly gained in confidence and mounted their first serious attack on 16 minutes. Marat Izmailov's right-wing cross drifted over Carles Puyol to the ummarked Bulykin, but his tame volley was blocked. Izmailov was Russia's brightest player in the opening stages and he threatened again minutes later, flashing a long-range shot wide of Iker Casillas' far post.
Vicente's influence on the left wing grew as the half went on and his darting burst and precise cross set up a glorious chance for Morientes on 36 minutes. The striker's header was brilliantly saved by Sergei Ovchinnikov and although the rebound fell to Etxeberria, the winger miscued from close range.
The chance brought the game to life and Dmitri Alenichev almost opened the scoring at the other end seconds later, jinking between Carlos Marchena and Puyol but Casillas was equal to his chip. Russia finished the half on top and Casillas had to be alert once more as Alenichev cut into the box after a quickly-taken corner and forced the goalkeeper to parry at the near post.
Yartsev introduced playmaker Vladislav Radimov for Gusev at the break, but the second half started in similar vein to the first with a tide of Spain pressure. Etxeberria twice escaped his marker on the right, first cutting back for Baraja whose shot was blocked, then delivering a teasing cross that was headed wide of the far post by an unmarked Raúl.
Spain made their first changes just before the hour, with Valerón and Xabi Alonso replacing Morientes and Baraja – it took Valerón 36 seconds to make the breakthrough. Puyol burst past Dmitri Sennikov and delivered a low cross that Valerón coolly worked on to his left foot to score from close range.
Russia reacted by sending on Dmitri Sychev as a second striker but Spain were suddenly playing with more fluency. Raúl might have doubled the lead, shrugging off two defenders before shooting just over from 20 metres while Vicente had two late chances, but La Roja had already done enough.