Luis Aragone’s Spain dramatically sealed their place in the quarter finals of Euro 2008 after a injury-time goal from Valencia talisman David Villa. The tournament’s top goalscorer added to his impressive hat-trick against Russia on Tuesday with a solo effort late on to salvage a win that in fairness they probably deserved. The win leaves Spain top of Group D with only already eliminated Greece to play in Salzburg tomorrow night.
Besides the scintillating Torres and Villa up front for Spain, who always posed a threat to a solid Sweden defence marshaled by Olof Mellberg the game overall largely lacked quality. Again Sweden attempted to employ their counter-attacking prowess which they use so effectively but with little reward. Johan Elmander was a surprise starter for the Swedes on the right hand side of midfield with Christian Wilhelmsson sidelined for the rest of the tournament. Fredrik Stoor also replaced the veteran Niclas Alexandersson at right back to give the Swedes an attacking edge. Stoor looked assured throughout the entire game despite being tested several times by the pace of Torres and Villa and on the whole dealt with it well.
The main talking point of a uneventful game came on the stroke of half time when Silva seemed to be bundled over in the penalty area by Johan Elmander. It looked to be a striker’s challenge with the penalty being the obvious decision but referee Pieter Vink demanded play to continue. The Spanish players were clearly incensed by the decision and many of them surrounded him to air their frustrations after the half time whistle had gone. Vink may be familiar to fans of Arsenal and Liverpool after failing to award a penalty to Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-final last season for a foul on Alexander Hleb by Dirk Kuyt. Yet again he seemed to have got the big decision wrong. Spain perhaps got their just rewards for a poor decision from Vink by scoring a late goal although Sweden did not deserve to lose as they produced much of the game’s best plays. If Elmander had been on top form Sweden could have equalised straight from the restart after Torres’ well worked goal from the quick thinking of Silva. The game was full of hit and miss moments-Marcos Senna and the Swedish centre midfield of Anders Svensson and Daniel Andersson were industrious for their sides allowing plays to form and also subside. Also almost crucially Ibrahimovic’s goal could have been dealt with better by Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal with the ball trickling under his arm and Spain could have rued this but for the individual brilliance of David Villa. Before the tournament his value was close to Â£20 million. On what he has shown so far in Euro 2008 (scoring 4 goals in Spain’s opening two games) his value will have sky-rocketed with Rafael Benitez on the phone to the consortium of Hicks/Gillett demanding Â£25 million + for the striker to team him up with Torres at Anfield next season to help them break that unwanted record of 18 years without a league championship in the trophy cabinet for England’s most decorated club.
Again the link-up play from Ibrahimovic and Larsson was efficient but Sweden lacked a spark after the break with Ibrahimovic going off at half-time still suffering from a swollen knee which has plagued him for the remainder of the season. Somehow Lagerback may have thought that he would need his enigmatic forward in the final group game against Russia with a win for the Swedes guaranteeing them through to the knock-stages to face the in-form Dutch. Sweden can altogether be happy with their performance on the day and but for that lack of concentration at the back in stoppage time would have grabbed an unlikely point.