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HAT-TRICK HERO: Spain’s David Villa (left), who scored a hat-trick against Russia, is congratulated by teammate Santiago Cazorla.
HAT-TRICK HERO: Spain’s David Villa (left), who scored a hat-trick against Russia, is congratulated by teammate Santiago Cazorla.

David Villa scores the tournament’s first hat-trick

INNSBRUCK: David Villa scored a hat-trick on Tuesday to give Spain a 4-1 win over Russia, confirming it as one of the favourites at the European Championship.

Fernando Torres fed the streaking Villa for a right-footed goal in the 20th minute. The Valencia striker later slid Andres Iniesta’s slick pass under goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev for his second in the 44th.

Villa completed his memorable Group ‘D’ game after dribbling around Roman Shirokov in the 74th to slot past Akinfeev with his right foot.

Villa’s hat-trick for Spain was the first hat-trick by a player for eight years in the tournament.

The previous scorer of a Euro hat-trick was former Dutch international striker Patrick Kluivert, who notched his against the former Yugoslavia in the quarter-finals of Euro 2000.

“Three goals, a hat-trick with the national team — it’s started well,” Villa said. “We’re off to a good start. But there are still two games to go.”

Roman Pavlyuchenko scored one for Russia with a header in the 86th, and Cesc Fabregas added a fourth for the Spanish in injury time.

Russia had its chances in a high-tempo first half with Igor Semshov shooting wide after going in alone on goal in the 17th and Konstantin Zyryanov hitting the post after the Spanish defence failed to clear six minutes later. Russia also had a chance to get back into the match after the break but Vladimir Bystrov directed his free header from a Semak cross straight into Iker Casillas’s grateful grasp.

“(Considering) how much possession of the ball we had ... we were caught out by our own mistakes,” Russia coach Guus Hiddink said. “I hope we can move fast now because we still have two games to go.”

Spain, which has won seven straight matches and is riding a 17-game unbeaten streak, opened its second straight Euro campaign with a win over the Russians — the Spanish won 1-0 in Portugal four years ago.

Villa showed no effects from the right thigh injury picked up a week ago as he took his international goal tally to 17 from 32 games — two more than Torres, who has played 50 times. But without left back Joan Capdevila, the first two goals would not have been possible.

The Villarreal defender found Torres down the left with space. In a one-on-one situation with defender Denis Kolodin, the Liverpool striker worked around the Dynamo Moscow defender to feed Villa for a calmly struck goal.

Crisp finish

Capdevila led the breakout on the second goal too, finding Iniesta with a crossfield pass. Iniesta left Yuri Zhirkov flat-footed as the agile FC Barcelona player moved around him to feed Villa, who had slipped between two defenders and alone in front of Akinfeev for another crisp finish with his right foot.

In the second half, Spain’s coach Luis Aragones brought Torres for Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas to try to close up the middle of the park.

Russia will need to rally in its final two games against defending champion Greece and Sweden to avoid dropping out after the group stage for the fourth straight time. Coach Guus Hiddink has never failed to lead his teams out of the group phase at four prior major championships.

Spain’s opener had allowed it to find its rhythm after a bruising start.

The Russians were looking to slow Spain’s quick touch passing with physical play and it worked inside 10 minutes aside from a couple of misses by Torres and Villa from up close.

Slick passes

It was Russia that was able to put together the slick midfield passes early on and Semshov struck wide after being played into the area by Aleksandr Anyukuv. Dmitri Sychev’s centering pass drifted through the area before landing at Zyryanov, who swiped it off the near post.

Iniesta was surrounded by white shirts but spotted Villa slipping in to beat the offside trap and put Spain in control.

The Russians started to dominate possession early in the second half and had a couple of chances on goal, including from substitute Vladimir Bystrov and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

But Spain was executing better despite Russia’s possession advantage and David Silva was unlucky not to get on the scoreboard after seeing two chances blocked, one saved and another fly over goal before coming off for Xabi Alonso in the 77th.

Fabregas and Santi Cazorla injected more pace into Spain’s impressive counterattack when they came on, and Fabregas scored his first goal in 27 appearances after heading Xavi Hernandez’s blocked volley.

It was Spain’s biggest win in the tournament since a 4-3 victory over Yugoslavia in 2000.

Hiddink had to juggle his lineup with playmakers Pavel Pogrebnyak with Andrei Arshavin missing.

The striker’s responsibility fell on Pavlyuchenko, who also shot wide in the 81st.

The result: Spain 4 (David Villa 20, 44, 74, Fabregas 91) bt Russia 1 (Pavlyuchenko 86). — AP

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