There was a time when Fernando Torres was Spain’s star striker for several years, a first pick for La Seleccion. Those days are a distant memory, with the form of the 30-year-old having taken a nose dive following his €60m move from Liverpool to Chelsea in 2011.
The inclusion of El Nino in Vicente del Bosque’s 23-man squad to travel to Brazil, despite scoring just five times for the Blues in 29 Premier League appearances this season, is therefore something of a surprise.
Del Bosque delayed his squad until Saturday in order to check on the fitness of key Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid players after the Champions League final. Ahead of the Coach’s announcement, Torres marked his return to La Roja after an 11-month absence by scoring a penalty as Spain defeated Bolivia in a World Cup warm-up game in Seville on Friday night.
His failure to add a second when put though by Andres Iniesta with only the goalkeeper to beat, however, will not have boosted the confidence of the former Atletico Madrid marksman.
One obvious reason for Torres’ selection is Del Bosque’s absence of alternative forwards, with 32-year-old David Villa, the nation’s highest-ever scorer, and fellow Atletico frontman Diego Costa the only other genuine striking options included in the 23 gunning for a fourth consecutive major title.
There are questions surrounding the Brazilian-born Costa’s fitness, the prolific 25-year-old having limped out of the Champions League final with a persistent hamstring injury, which could lead Del Bosque to place greater reliance on the inconsistent Torres.
Many will consider Torres to be lucky to be going to Brazil while other Spanish strikers have shown better form the Chelsea man but been left out. Fernando Llorente failed to make the cut despite 16 goals in 34 games for Juventus, while Roberto Soldado, Alvaro Negredo and Michu were all overlooked despite comprehensively outscoring the Madrileno.
This is likely to be Torres’ last chance to play again at a World Cup finals and Del Bosque will no doubt be laying down the gauntlet to the blonde striker, who has scored 36 goals in 106 games for La Roja, to prove his worth on the greatest stage of all.
However, Del Bosque will in no way be building his team around an old-fashioned centre-forward. Indeed, the key question could be whether Spain need one at all. Time has moved on since Euro 2008, when Torres was on fire after netting 33 goals in his first season at Liverpool and led the line in such deadly fashion for Spain, bagging the winning goal for Luis Aragones’ side in Vienna.
In the Del Bosque era of tiki-taka, with the Spain frontline often reduced either to a single striker or to an attacking midfield trio with a false nine at its heart, the wily Coach’s reliance on an out-and-out striker has been significantly reduced. Instead, the attacking threat comes from talented wide players such as David Silva and Juan Mata, both of whom are included in Del Bosque’s 23.
Torres will be in Brazil. Whether he gets a chance to make an impact remains to be seen.