Vicente del Bosque declared that he was not be unduly worried about Spain’s failure to register a win in their opening Euro 2012 encounter against Italy in Gdansk, which ended in a 1-1 draw. What might concern the Spanish Coach, however, is his side’s lack of firepower.
Devoid of a recognised striker until the late introduction of Fernando Torres, and without the inspirational figures of David Villa and veteran skipper Carles Puyol through injury, this was a sometimes lethargic display from La Roja, measured against their own high standards.
There was often little sign of the sparkling tiki-taka football and fluent passing game that thrilled Europe in 2008 and the world two years later in South Africa. Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and especially Andres Iniesta worked tirelessly without reward in midfield – without a dominant front man there was nobody to convert the chances they created.
Spain’s brightest moment was their immediate response after Antonio Di Natale had given Italy the lead. Cesc Fabregas, who had been preferred to Torres in attack, fired home from David Silva’s clever through-ball before the erratic Chelsea striker eventually replaced him.
Fernando Llorente, coming into Euro 2012 after a prolific campaign for Athletic Bilbao both domestically and in Europe, might have been a better bet than Torres, who spurned three good opportunities to win the match for Spain and was shown a yellow card for a clumsy challenge.
No team has ever won three major tournaments in succession and none has ever successfully defended the European Championship title. Many believe the Euro 2012 final in Kyiv on July 1 will see Spain succeed in doing both.
In addition to the weight of expectation, the state of fatigue of many of his players could be a real concern for Del Bosque, whose squad of 23 players played a combined total of almost 90,000 minutes of football last season, around 17,000 more than their Italian opponents.
No doubt recalling his side’s slow start to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they were defeated in their opening game by Switzerland, the unflappable Del Bosque said he was disappointed at not winning against Italy, but had no regrets about his decision to field Fabregas in a striking role.
“Of course we wanted to win here but I am not leaving feeling frustrated. I thought we put in a good performance and we will leave happy knowing that,” Del Bosque said after the draw with Italy. “Cesc Fabregas is a player who is great at arriving in the area and we tried to use him from the start in a way we thought best for this occasion. Fernando Torres came on later and had chances to score which he didn't take but I am happy with a draw.”
Spain take on the Republic of Ireland on June 14 in a match they will be expected to win, before their final, and possibly decisive group game against in-form Croatia four days later.