An engaging first half ended goalless although both sides had their chances. Spain started the game marginally the quicker of the two sides, Xavi bending in an early cross which Sergio Ramos just failed to connect with and Villa and Torres combining well moments later, but Torres, after swivelling past his marker, could only manage a weak shot at goal.
The Russians slowly grew into the game and with the much vaunted Arshavin being well marshalled by the Spanish defence it was fellow striker Pavlyuchenko who had the best chances for Gus Hiddink’s side.
A free kick from fully 40 yards which flew inches over was his first warning, quickly followed by a speculative shot from range which he tried to bend past Casillas. His shot may have been going wide but the Real Madrid goalkeeper was taking no chances and managed to tip it around the post.
After losing their group game to the Spaniards 4-1, the Russians were clearly growing in confidence as the match progressed and just after the half hour mark they had even more reason to be happy.
David Villa, the tournament’s top scorer and the man who had hit a hat trick when the two sides had met earlier in the tournament was taken off injured. However, Russian joy was surely short lived as his replacement Cesc Fabregas had also scored against the Russians.
The change interrupted Spain’s rhythmn momentarily and Russia continued to pose a threat. Pavlyuchenko, again having the best chances, heading wide from an Anyukov cross before missing the target again with another shot, after chesting down a long ball inside the box.
As the half drew to a close Spain came back into the game, their slick passing once again in evidence and Torres taking advantage of Zhirkov’s forward runs and causing a problem down the right. However, neither side could make the crucial breakthrough and they headed for the interval level.
The deadlock didn’t last long and within five minutes of the restart Spain were ahead, their Barcelona midfielders combining to deadly effect. Some great work from Iniesta on the left saw him eventually put the ball into the box where Xavi, making a great run, was on hand to poke the ball home to give the Spanish the lead.
The goal galvanised Spain and they threatened to take an unshakeable hold on the game. Gus Hiddink responded with a double substitution throwing on Bilyaletidinov and Sychev but the Russians were left chasing shadows as the Spanish began to zip the ball around with confidence and completely dominate possession.
With Villa watching miserably from the sidelines the chances fell to Fernando Torres. Twice in a matter of minutes, on the hour mark, he had the opportunity to double Spain’s lead but his shooting was wayward and the Russians survived.
They were to prove his last chances, Luis Aragones choosing to replace Xavi and Torres with Alonso and Güiza. The strength in depth of Spain’s squad clearly in evidence and the substitutes combined well to double Spain’s lead with a little under twenty minutes to go.
Sergio Ramos again breaking down the right played the ball into Fabregas whose dinked ball over the top found Güiza running in on goal. A delightful finish by the substitute made it two nil and gave the Spanish some breathing space.
With a two goal lead the Spanish were now completely dominant, their short, slick passing game simply too much for the Russians. With ten minutes to go, they made it three to give the match the scoreline their superior football deserved.
Iniesta was again involved, setting Fàbregas free on the left. The young Arsenal man, who must have been wondering if he had done enough to find himself in the starting line up for Sunday’s final, found Silva in the box with a perfect pass and the Valencia man finished well past Akinfeev to put the gloss on a wonderful night for Spain.
Although the Russians couldn’t live with Spain defeat holds little shame for Hiddink’s men who have illuminated this tournament and surprised many by reaching the semi final. Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko, in particular, have produced some memorable moments and Hiddink’s already fearsome reputation, can only have been enhanced further.
Spain, meanwhile, must now go into Sunday’s final against Germany full of confidence. The quality of their football and the strength in depth of their squad is without question, although even then Villa's presumed absence from the final will be a hard knock to take.
After so much disappointment the question is now, could this finally be their year? With footballers of the quality of Villa, Torres, Iniesta, Xavi and Fabregas they have no reason to fear any side. However, whilst Germany have largely been unconvincing so far it would be dangerous to write them off; Sunday’s final promises much.
0-3 Spain (Silva, 81)
0-2 Spain (Guiza, 72)
0-1 Spain (Xavi, 49)
Russia: Akinfeev, Anyukov, Berezutski, Ignashevich, Zhirkov, Zyryanov, Semak, Semshov (Bilyaletidinov, 55), Saenko (Sychev, 56), Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko
Spain: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Puyol, Marchena, Capdevila, Senna, Iniesta, Xavi (Alonso, 68), Silva, David Villa (Fàbregas, 34), Torres (Güiza, 68)