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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Russia striker Roman Pavlyuchenko carries a bag upon his arrival in Vienna on Tuesday. Pavlyuchenko is Russia's top scorer with three goals and he will be looking forward to adding to his tally against Spain during their Euro 2008 semifinal in Vienna on Thursday. Photo: AFP
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Spanish midfielder Xavi Hernandez on Tuesday warned Euro 2008 semifinal opponents Russia he and his compatriots were out "to make history" as they target a first title since 1964.

After repeatedly falling at the quarterfinal stage of major tournaments the Spanish finally broke their hoodoo with Sunday's penalty shootout success over Italy and Barcelona star Xavi says a place in the last four has not sated the team's desire for more.

"I am very happy as we have already taken a big step towards making history. But we still aren't there yet. We want to get to the final and win it - and this team is ready to do so," insisted the midfield star.

"We are not going to lose our (playing) philosophy against the Russians. We will keep on playing an attacking game. Possession will be the key," he indicated.

That will make Xavi himself a key man as he vies with Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas for the role of playmaker. So far, coach Luis Aragones has begun with Xavi and preferred to see Cesc as an option to bring into the fray later from the bench.

After seeing off the sterile Italians in the lottery of a shootout Xavi says the Furia Roja are determined to show their way of doing things is the only way forward

"We have believed in our style of play, our philosophy, since the start and in our coach. We were fortunate to win on penalties against Italy but we were looking for that bit of luck and we got it," said Xavi, while warning he did not expect a repeat of the 4-1 group win over the Russians.

"Now, they have more confidence and their self-esteem is on the rise, beating opponents who were favourites to do well in the Euros. The rival we will now face will not be the same one we faced in the opening game. Their morale is on the up.

"Against them we had a little luck in going 2-0 ahead and then we made use of the counter-attack.

"This one will now be more difficult, firstly, because it is a semifinal after all. We must get ourselves mentally ready for reaching the final and not just content ourselves with having finally got past the quarters."

Xavi has already experienced some glory at international level - he was on the Under20 team which won the world championships in Nigeria in 1999 and he also picked up an Olympic silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Looking at how the Russians have bounced back from their opening loss Xavi notes: "The physical factor is very important for them. That's what brought them through against Holland above all in extra-time, when the Dutch were tired and the Russians very fresh. But we're physically in good shape too," he warned Guus Hiddink's side.

Xavi also insisted that the Spanish should not obsess too much about the brilliant form of Andre Arshavin, who has been instrumental in the Russian turnaround.

"I think people are talking too much about Arshavin whereas it's the Russians as a whole unit who count for more. They have players we know about, such as (midfielder Yuri) Zhirkov and (striker Roman) Pavlyuchenko. In order to stop them doing any damage we must ensure they don't see much of the ball."

Now Xavi thinks Spain's 44 years of hurt - a drought even worse, though only just - than that of England can finally come to an end and they can lift the trophy.

"I think many things have changed with the Spanish - this year the quarterfinal penalties went in for example," he noted, whereas on three previous occasions June 22 shootouts had proved fatal.

"We have had a little luck - but history owes us!"

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