"Yet another cameo of utterly bewitching football" from Spanish substitute Cesc Fabregas was the key to Spain's 3-0 European Championship semifinal win over Russia, writes James Lawton. After all the pre-game talk of Russia's canny Dutch coach Guus Hiddink and his midfield conjurer Andrei Arshavin, "Spain struck out for the destiny that they always believed was theirs -- a place on the high table of world football."
The first-half introduction of Fabregas into the game was fortuitous, after lead-scoring striker David Villa pulled a muscle while taking a free-kick. The substitute's "impudence and self-belief helped turn what was supposed to be an intriguing contest into that which was ultimately hard to distinguish from outright slaughter. He made two goals with the easiest of touches. It was as though those days in the margins had stored up a great lust to express itself."
Fabregas had also injected fresh life into the Spanish during the torpid 0-0 tie with Italy in the quarterfinal, and his display Thursday "once again suggested that he may have been perhaps the most neglected talent in the tournament." Arshavin, meanwhile, was "overshadowed in terms of both power and creativity," failing to find "the seam of brilliance that destroyed the Netherlands" last weekend.