Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque faced over twenty–four hours of criticism in the Spanish sporting press following his team’s 1-1 draw with Italy in Gdansk on Sunday afternoon. With even some added stories circulating that he was extremely annoyed after the match and there was a row of sorts within the team. A matter he clarified in the press conference on Tuesday at the impressive training facilities in Gniewino, reassuring the media there was nothing of the sort.
In fact, he was happy enough with the result given it was the first game.
But ahead of the match with the Republic of Ireland, Del Bosque was unwilling to share any team selections, claiming he had yet to decide on the final eleven and so would wait a further few days. Not surprising given the team selection for Spain’s opening EURO 2012 match attracted the most heat, and the decision not to pick a traditional centre forward from the kick off, in the shape of either Fernando - Llorente or Torres – the main talking point.
The choice of Cesc Fabregas to start and relying on the midfielders to break forward when on the edge of the box seems to have been the issue for the Spanish press. The fact that Fabregas then scored the equaliser spared the blushes all round and seems to have justified Del Bosque’s decision. At least in the manager’s mind anyway.
However, the media remain unimpressed, even if they should not be totally surprised. All e too influenced perhaps by the success of Llorente in Athletic Bilbao’s Europa League campaign this season.
During his time at Real Madrid, del Bosque did same with Guti, pushing him into the hole, with the freedom to attack the box anytime there was a chance on. The result was winning La Liga in 2001 and 2003 - doing so without solely relying on a Fernando Morientes or Ronaldo type to score the goals. Probably easier to do when the calibre of player includes Luis Figo, Zidane or Raul. Indeed in South Africa Torres was only used as an impact sub in their world cup winning campaign, and only started twice – being substituted on both occasions by Fabregas or Juana Mata.
It was Luis Aragones, the Spanish coach in 2008, who relied on the explosive Torres speed to deliver goals. But that was then and in the now the Chelsea striker has lost some of that zip. Anyway, it is a moot point given that the great Brazil side of 1970 World Cup also had no recognised centre forward.
Coach Mario Zagalo faced a headache as he tried not only to accommodate five players in the national squad - all playing centre forward at their clubs - but also making the combination work for Brazil. And at a major tournament as well.
As football history records the result was a work of beauty as the five midfielders also had exceptional scoring ability and most did so by breaking into the space left vacant by the lack of a traditional number 9. Even today there are few arguments as to the formation Zagalo chose for those weeks in July, especially as Rivelino, Gerson, Pele, Tostao or Jairzinho all got on the score sheet during the tournament.
Regardless of those facts, Del Bosque was clear about one thing ahead of Thursday’s match was that the discipline and structure typify the Republic of Ireland and it means that Spain will have to work on breaking down that lack of space. A diagnosis which shows a healthy respect it would seem for the Giovanni Trapattoni system, rather than any outright fear that Spain are vulnerable to a major threat from Ireland in their second match.
But at Tuesday’s training session there were few clues as to Del Bosque’s thinking as the practice match saw the two teams play with Juanfran, Javi Martínez, Albiol, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Mata and Torres on one side and Sergio Ramos, Piqué, Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Xabi Alonso, Cazorla, Iniesta, Silva, Llorente and Negredo on the other. The only topic of note being that Torres scored a hat-trick.
In the aftermath of the Italy game the Spanish players had few complaints other than some comments about the state of the pitch on the day. But Del Bosque was quick to ensure that it was not an excuse for the result and they would not be taking the issue much further. For the Ireland game the venue was the same and Spain would just get on with it – whatever the teams was on the night. For the waiting Spanish media the only clue Del Bosque did give was that he would be selecting a number 9 for the game.
The general consensus is that whoever takes the ninth spot on the team sheet it is unlikely to be Fernando Torres.