“We have a particular style. Why should we change if we are doing well?” Vicente Del Bosque asked after repeated questions forced the Coach to defend the World Cup winning team. After suffering humiliation against Finland, considered the whipping boys of the qualifying group, Spain were criticised for not having a plan B when it came to facing sides that parked the proverbial bus and defended in numbers.
Without either Xavi Hernandez or Xabi Alonso available to expose holes within the Finnish setup, question marks were raised as to the predictable tactics consistently used by the Spaniards that has seemingly stripped them of the ability to stun.
However, with both midfielders back in the fold for the important must win clash against France, La Roja seemingly reminded the world exactly why their particular style of play is superior. They may struggle and they may be made to suffer but their continued patience and ability to construct a decisive goal scoring chance at any given opportunity permits them to remain tactically stubborn.
Or does it? Against France, Spain controlled proceedings and boasted 75 per cent possession of the ball. Didier Deschamps’ men were forced into being nothing more than counter-attacking specialists, who pressed incessantly in hopes of snatching possession in midfield to launch quick attacking movements and score a goal.
However, Les Bleus arguably had the better chances and produced more shots on goal than their opponents, proving to be more efficient with their time on the ball. Had Victor Valdes not pulled off two spectacular saves or Nacho Monreal not made a stunning tackle, would Spain continue to insist their plan A is too good to cease the search for alternatives?
It took a moment of vertical beauty to finally overcome a tough French side that were organised perfectly. As the French media described it, Pedro Rodriguez’s goal was nothing more than a ‘fluke’. Xavi and Alonso were welcomed back and, whilst they allowed their side extended periods on the ball, they, alongside Andres Iniesta, struggled to pierce the opponents’ defence and find that coveted final pass to terrify the French back-line. There were few spaces to exploit, David Villa was lost offside whilst midfield passes struggled to provide openings for the Spanish forwards.
The difference between last night’s match and the one against the Scandinavians last week was found in the attitude of the players. A loss away from home would have allowed France a five-point lead at the top of their qualifying group and almost certainly a trip to the play-offs for the La Roja. As such, Del Bosque’s men were determined and focused on staying true to their identity that is now so ingrained in their minds that it allows substitutes to perform just as well as those who command a starting role within the team.
Considering the wonderful tactical battle between two great nations of football, only technical skill separated the two to allow Spain a win. France may be a team that is developing steadily but they lack that creative spark and an in-form Karim Benzema able to net those all-important goals.
A more clinical French side may just have triumphed on the night. Thus the question remains, is Spain’s style still too good to overcome?