The Spanish national team are awash with talent. Vicente del Bosque, therefore, has one of the toughest jobs of his colleagues to try to narrow his selection down to just 23, ahead of this summer’s European Championship. Friendlies are thus a key component in helping to judge which players work best together under which tactics, and vitally, which players want it the most.
It could be expected therefore, that in the build up to this summer’s tournament, the metaphorical shackles often associated with friendlies would be lifted; there would be less sideways passing, more determination and grit, and less back-patting of the opponents. Unfortunately, for the 65-year-old, that wasn’t the case for La Roja against Romania.
Ten changes were made from the side that drew against Italy on Friday, Gerard Pique the only player to carry-over. Of those that were given the chance at the Cluj Arena, perhaps only three made a good case for their inclusion in the Spanish squad and starting XI.
One of those was veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who maintains his impressive unbeaten spell for Spain. Often cited as lacking aerial prowess, he made a number of solid punches from dangerous Romanian set-pieces. He was equally adept with his feet, particularly necessary due to the rapid and high-pressing tactics of the home side. As captain he was also vocal, not afraid to remonstrate with Pique after he dallied and lost the ball instead of clearing. David de Gea may be Del Bosque’s current No 1, but Casillas has shown that he’s up for the fight.
At right back, Mario Gaspar, known for his willingness to get forward for club side Villareal, proved his defensive capabilities. Juanfran, who played against Italy, hasn’t always looked as sound for Spain as he does for Atletico Madrid, so Del Bosque will be pleased with Mario’s performance against a lively Nicolae Stanciu. In fact, it was Jordi Alba’s left flank where Romania had most success going forward.
Spain’s best performer however, was arguably their number six, Koke. Bearing Xavi Hernandez’s old number, the Atleti midfielder attempted to dictate the play from what was a deeper role than what he is used to at the Vicente Calderon. He did it successfully, mind, constantly being available for his teammates due to his mobility. He was one of the only players to spread the play, with cross-field balls, and was able to change the pace of the play with forward-thinking passes.
This was epitomised in the 54th minute, when he sliced open a stubborn Romanian defence with a pinpoint through ball, highlighting his danger from a more advanced position. Likewise, later in the second half, he encouraged Mario to push on with a dinked ball over the top. It was by all means not a perfect performance by the 24-year-old, but he stood out as a player willing to take risks to get his team forward and playing at a faster pace, vital against deep-lying defences.
Del Bosque cannot take much else from what was another uninspiring display from the reigning European champions. He’ll expect a better performance against Bosnia and Herzegovina on May 29.