Spain hit back to sink Peru - 19/02/2004
Spain got their Euro 2004 preparations off to a winning start with victory against Peru in Barcelona. With the finals in Portugal less than four months away, Inaki Saez's side were forced to come from a goal behind to send the South Americans away empty-handed. The visitors took an early lead courtesy of Aston Villa's Nolberto Solano before the Spanish hit back with two goals in two minutes just after the half hour.
With the Peruvian supporters outnumbering the hosts at the Olympic Stadium - due to the Catalan city's large Peruvian community - it was Spain who almost silenced them early on as Real Madrid striker Raul played in defender Carlos Marchena but his shot from an acute angle was saved by Peru goalkeeper Oscar Ibanez. The away side created several half-chances in the early stages with Bayern Munich frontman Claudio Pizarro going close on a couple of occasions. And after 21 minutes the vociferous support went wild when Solano half-volleyed a cross from Andres Mendoza into the corner from 15 yards.
Peru continued to press forward and nearly grabbed another when Martin Hidalgo hit the crossbar after a strong run down the left wing. But Peru's defensive weaknesses allowed Spain to score twice in as many minutes to turn the match on its head. First Joseba Etxeberria volleyed home inside the box after 31 minutes before Ruben Baraja found the back of the net through a crowded penalty area for what turned out to be the winner.
Spain made seven substitutions at half-time with Espanyol's Raul Tamudo coming on at his home stadium, and needing only minutes to make an impact when he hit the upright after creating room for himself in the box. While Peru maintained their competitive edge during the second half, the number of substitutions affected the rhythm of the game and chances were at a premium. Spain, treating the game as an opportunity to practice new tactical formations, were content to pass the ball around in midfield.
And while Peru continued to show a physical edge, niggling fouls were committed by both sides before the whistle signalled victory for Saez's side.
Tim Hanlon, PA
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