The perennial underachievers looked like champions and last tournament’s overachievers looked pedestrian yesterday at the European Championship.
Spain, which is still looking for its first major international trophy since winning Euro 1964 at home, routed Russia 4-1 in its Group D opener, getting three goals from David Villa and another from Cesc Fabregas.
Surprising Euro 2004 champion Greece, however, failed to produce the same stifling defence that keep it going through the knockout rounds last time, allowing second-half goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Petter Hansson in a 2-0 loss to Sweden in Salzburg.
“The Greeks didn’t play with heart like they normally do, and the Swedes pushed us hard,” said Greece coach Otto Rehhagel, who will likely need a win against Russia on Saturday to have any hope of reaching the quarter-finals.
Villa gave Spain the lead in Innsbruck in the 20th minute, taking a pass from Fernando Torres and beating goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev with a right-footed shot. He added another after a slick pass from Andres Iniesta in the 44th, and then completed the hat trick in the 74th after dribbling around Roman Shirokov and again scoring with his right foot.
“Three goals, a hat trick with the national team — it’s started well,” said Villa, who scored the first hat trick at the European Championship since 2000. “We’re off to a good start. But there are still two games to go.”
Roman Pavlyuchenko got one back for Russia with a header in the 86th, and Fabregas added Spain’s fourth goal in injury time.
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.
“(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."
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