A scintillating David Villa hat-trick gave Spain a clear-cut 4-1 victory over Russia in their first outing at UEFA EURO 2008 and confirmed the immense power of his partnership with Fernando Torres.
In a high-quality Group D encounter, Russia provided moments to indicate that Luis Aragonés's side may still be vulnerable at the back and gained consolation with Roman Pavlyuchenko's 86th-minute header. But Villa's second goal in particular was a stunning team move which may already be one of the goals of the tournament. Only the seventh player in finals history to score three in a game, the 26-year-old then utterly stamped his class on the match, crossing for Xavi Hernández to volley and substitute Cesc Fàbregas to head in the fourth in stoppage time.
Torres has always asked for a quick supply of the ball at international level and in the 20th minute he got it. Courtesy of a Joan Capdevila interception and a notable right-footed pass from the left-back, the Liverpool FC forward was left one on one with his marker. Torres used good upper body strength to pressurise Denis Kolodin and when the Spaniard skipped clear he allowed goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev to try and dive at his feet before slipping the ball to the right, into the path of Villa who finished unerringly.
Within seconds Russia nearly equalised. Their love of overlapping full-back play had already caused havoc in the jumpy Spain back line, but instead of Aleksandr Anyukov this time it was Dmitri Sychev whose right-wing cross drifted, agonisingly, across Carles Puyol, Marcos Senna and even Andrés Iniesta before Konstantin Zyryanov cracked the ball off the post.
Instead of daunting Spain, it seemed the players in red took their luck as an indication that this was their night. Within six minutes of Villa's first goal, he and Torres had created three outstanding opportunities – two of which needed smart blocks by Akinfeev. Russia, for their part, were fighting to impose themselves, repeatedly catching Iniesta in possession, and Pavlyuchenko hit the bar with a left-footed shot though referee Konrad Plautz had already called a foul.
Villa closed a sparkling 45 minutes with Spain's second, however, following a brilliant move. Zyryanov attempted an ambitious pass across the Spain box and David Silva ran to retrieve it, sparking a lightning-quick passing movement through Silva, Capdevila and Iniesta which left Villa sprinting into the box where he slipped the ball between Akinfeev's legs.
Vladimir Bystrov's introduction made an impact as Russia sought a way back, and his header from Zyryanov's cross brought Iker Casillas into action before Diniyar Bilyaletdinov shot narrowly wide. However, Spain were irrepressible. Fàbregas came on for Torres as Aragonés chose to rest his striker and Villa almost had his hat-trick in the 66th minute but was prevented by a superb Anyukov tackle – the forward did not have to wait much longer.
With 15 minutes left, he turned Roman Shirokov inside out and finished expertly with his right foot. It was just that Russia's commitment to attack eventually won some reward in the final minutes. Zyryanov, culpable for the second goal but Guus Hiddink's best player, took a corner which Shirokov nodded on and Pavlyuchenko headed in at the back post. Even then Villa had the last word, creating Spain's fourth and Fàbregas's first for his country.