Vicente del Bosque’s persistence with Cesc Fabregas as a false 9 for Spain in the absence of a recognised striker has delivered mixed results, with only limited success against quality opposition. That much was clear last October when La Roja dropped points against France, but last night it worked.
The Barcelona playmaker’s two incisive contributions to the 3-1 win over Uruguay will have reinforced Del Bosque’s belief that the tactic should retain a place in his armoury and that Fabregas is the man to make it work. He may have been fortunate to put Spain in front after a howler from Fernando Muslera in the Uruguay goal, but his pass for their third was memorable.
Fabregas’ speculative punt from distance after picking up a pass from Juan Mata swerved only slightly to deceive the unfortunate Muslera, but the former Arsenal man did have the vision and confidence to go for goal in the first place. His overlapping interplay in the second half with David Villa was neat and the ensuing curling pass for Pedro Rodriguez to score Spain’s third was sublime.
In between, Pedro punished Uruguay further with a ruthless finish past Muslera after two delightful passes from Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique. That provided another reminder of the value of the invariably unsung Pedro, whose hat-trick against Belarus was one of the highlights of a relatively low key qualifying campaign so far.
If the starring roles last night were played by some of Spain’s more established characters – including skipper Carles Puyol winning his 100th cap – there was massive interest among the supporting cast, not least because there is clearly another wave of talent waiting in the wings for the time when the likes of Xavi Hernandez finally call it a day.
Xavi had withdrawn from Del Bosque’s squad on Monday with a pulled hamstring and the Coach was also without Xabi Alonso who had a groin injury. With Fernando Torres dropped and no place either for Javi Martinez, Michu or Roberto Soldado, there was plenty of scope for others to stake a claim.
Even without Xavi, Spain’s passing game was as technically impressive as ever and, hard though they tried to catch their opponents on the counter-attack, Uruguay were just unable to see enough possession to trouble Puyol et al in the Spain defence.
Del Bosque maintained before the match that he would remain conservative in terms of the extent to which he was prepared to try out new options.
“I know it’s a friendly game and that we could have experimented more but we need to use this match as preparation, because in March we face two very difficult games,” he told reporters – perhaps with undue flattery to Finland – ahead of the friendly.
That qualifier in Gijon is followed by a showdown with France in Paris, a possible group decider. In truth, the introduction of several new players last night was no experiment. 20-year-old Malaga midfielder Isco Alarcon had an impressive debut, seamlessly replacing Andres Iniesta in a pivotal midfield role in the second half, while Chelsea full-back Cesar Azpilicueta, who started, and Atletico Madrid’s Mario Suarez, another substitute, also made eye catching contributions.
Last night provided an interesting glimpse of what the new Spain might begin to look like, and showed that it will be every bit as compelling as the current one.