The official website for European football

Victory vindicates Sáez switch

Published: Sunday 13 June 2004, 0.58CET
Coach Iñaki Sáez's decision to bring on Juan Carlos Valerón an hour into Spain's game with Russia proved a matchwinning decision.
by Matthew Spiro
from Faro-Loulé

Match statistics


Goals scored1
Attempts on target4
Attempts off target8
Fouls committed12
Yellow cards3
Red cards0



P: Played   
Pts: Points   
Last updated: 24/09/2015 11:42 CET
Published: Sunday 13 June 2004, 0.58CET

Victory vindicates Sáez switch

Coach Iñaki Sáez's decision to bring on Juan Carlos Valerón an hour into Spain's game with Russia proved a matchwinning decision.

Spain coach Iñaki Sáez paid tribute to Juan Carlos Valerón after the midfield player handed his side victory against Russia in their opening Group A game by scoring with his first touch after coming off the bench.

Sáez relief
The game was scoreless when Sáez sent Valerón on to replace Fernando Morientes in the 59th minute in Faro-Loulé, but just over 30 seconds later the RC Deportivo La Coruña playmaker had broken the deadlock after latching on to Carlos Puyol's cross. A satisfied Sáez said: "The first game is always difficult and it's a big relief to start off with a victory."

Tactical change
Of the substitution he added: "It wasn't working out for Morientes. I wanted to push Raúl [González] further forward and we needed a player like Valerón to thread the passes through. He took his chance well but that is the kind of opportunity I expect a player like him to take."

Spanish pressure
After the first four minutes, in which Spain twice carved alarmingly large holes in the Russian defence, Georgi Yartsev's team settled down to their task, with captain Aleksei Smertin – normally a midfield player – doing a good job of organising an inexperienced back line. Raúl and Morientes frequently saw their passages through the middle blocked off, but with Vicente Rodríguez and Joseba Etxeberria in lively form on the wings, Spain always posed a threat.

Confidence boost
Vicente, in particular, excelled on the left and was rewarded with the Carlsberg Man of the Match award. "My performance will give me real confidence going into the next few games," said the Valencia CF midfield player. "I thought it was crucial that we got a win in first game, and the Man of the Match award will only inspire me."

Cautious coach
Sáez was keen to urge caution ahead of their second game against Greece. "Greece showed against Portugal that they are a very organised side who are difficult to beat," he pointed out. "We have played them before many times so we know what to expect. One thing is for sure, though, we'll use very different tactics against Greece."

Full commitment
Yartsev, meanwhile, was pleased by the commitment his players showed, but admitted to feeling disappointed that they did not show more adventure. "You can't say there was a Russian player out there who wasn’t trying," he said. "They all gave 100 per cent and I don't blame them for the result. All I would say is that we did not put the Spain defence under as much pressure as we should have. Maybe we were a little bit frightened when we saw all the big names in the Spanish team."

Lack of support
But for an inspired five-minute spell in the first half, during which Dmitri Alenichev forced Iker Casillas into two reflex saves, the Spanish defence was rarely stretched. Yartsev, however, defended his decision to play Dmitri Bulykin as a lone striker, saying: "I was happy with the way Bulykin played, I was just surprised that my midfield players did not get forward to support him. I don't know why that was but I intend to ask them."

Defensive problems
Meanwhile, Russia's defensive problems continue to mount, with Roman Sharonov facing a suspension after his late sending off. Yartsev admits they face a difficult task against their next opponents Portugal. "I don't have many options now in defence," he said. "When you are not organised at the back, you cannot get results at this level. We saw that for the Spain goal."

'Unpredictable tournament'
Yartsev is not giving up hope of qualifying from Group A, however. "Before this tournament started people were saying it would be unpredictable. The Greece result this afternoon proved that and I believe all the teams out here – including Russia – are capable of pulling off surprises."

Last updated: 13/06/04 9.57CET