David Villa shines as defending champions disappoint


Salzburg (Austria) : David Villa was the hat-trick hero for his side as Spain trounced Russia 4-1 in a Euro 2008 Group D match in Innsbruck Tuesday.

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Villa’s performance stood in stark contrast to a dismal display by the defending champions Greece, who did everything in their power to prevent the Swedes from scoring in Salzburg, but in the end had to concede two goals in going down 2-0.

In Innsbruck, Villa scored twice in the first half and added a third in the 75th minute, before Roman Pavlyuchenko pulled one back for the Russians. Substitute Cesc Fabregas scored a fourth for the Spaniards in second half injury time.

Villa became only the seventh player to score three goals at a Euro final and was the star performer on a night in which Spain showed plenty of promise and raised hopes at home that their moment might finally have arrived – after so many disappointments on the big stage.

“I hope the best is yet to come,” said a delighted Villa, who conceded that “we have made a good start”.

Villa explained that he dedicated his third goal to Fernando Torres – by then on the subs’ bench – “because football is not only about goals. Fernando worked really hard to help me today.”

But if fans had plenty to cheer about in the early game, those watching Sweden against Greece were well justified in jeering the players off the field at half-time.

Two goals in the second half saved the night – at least for Swedes.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic provided the inspiration as he produced a stunning strike on 67 minutes, and Petter Hansson bundled in the second from close range six minutes later to seal a deserved win.

The one black spot for Sweden came when Christian Wilhelmsson, one of their better players on the night, pulled up clutching his hamstring and after having it taped, was carried off the pitch.

Greece must now win their next match, against Russia Saturday, to stand a chance of progressing from the group.

“We made two decisive mistakes,” Rehhagel said of his Greece side. “We did not exert pressure or have any fighting spirit.”

But fans in Salzburg are not the only people disappointed with developments at the tournament.

In Vienna, vendors in the fan zone dropped the price of beer by 1 euro after complaining of poor sales due to poor attendance.

While the Vienna fan zone was crammed with 84,300 fans Sunday for the games between Austria and Croatia and the Germany-Austria clash, there were just 17,500 present Monday for the games taking place in neighbouring Switzerland, which is co-hosting the event.

Meanwhile, in Poland, a politician called on the government to renounce the citizenship of footballers with Polish nationalities who decide to play for other countries.

Miroslaw Orzechowski’s call came two days after Polish-born striker Lukas Podolski scored twice for Germany in their 2-0 victory against Poland.

There was good news for French coach Raymond Domenech, as captain Patrick Vieira and striker Thierry Henry played through a 45-minute friendly Tuesday against a youth side.

Henry scored once in the 7-0 rout and, like Vieira, could play for Les Bleus against the Netherlands Friday.