Spain: Still the best, until they're beaten

Spain's manager needs to return to picking the best players, in the right positions, and to stop trying to be so clever. Because he doesn't need to be.


    They are the world champions. The defending European champions. And now finalists of Euro 2012, with a chance of becoming the first team ever to win these three major international tournaments in a row.

    Impressive? of course. Still the best? Until they are beaten, yes.

    But to suggest Spain, and their experienced coach Vicente Del Bosque, have got their approach to this tournament right would be as lame as the missed Bruno Alves penalty that got them past Portugal.

    Del Bosque, widely respected for his expert harnessing of Spain's vast talent, now appears to have developed 'a touch of the Rafas' from his compatriot Benitez.

    Benitez enjoyed incredible success at club level, when Liverpool won the trophy unexpectedly in 2005. This was due largely to some excellent tactics, player power and luck in the final.

    But the tactical element went to Rafa's head. He started to forget that he may be the chess player, or conductor of the orchestra, but that it doesn't play to get a a bit too clever, a bit too fond of one's own tactical nous.

    Ultimately, it's players who win football matches - so pick the right ones. Including a striker. And then the precious tactics may work better.

    Del Bosque started the tournament playing without a striker. Yes I know what he was trying to do - with Fabregas the man in the role closest to striker - but it was just too pretentious.

    Italy were composed and confident against this approach, which was practically an insult, and a draw was the fair result. However, As the late, great, Brian Clough said: 'Football's not played on paper' - Spain should have won with the players they have.

    In came a striker, Torres, against the woeful Republic of Ireland team. The right decision, and he scored twice.

    Though I do maintain he is still not the player he was when Spain won the trophy in 2008, and could complete an incredible double of Champions League with Chelsea plus Euro 2012 winners medals without being good enough to get a regular start.

    In their final group game against Croatia, Spain could, and should, have been eliminated from the tournament.

    Spain were second best to a team inspired by Luka Modric. Ever-reliable goalkeeper Iker Casillas kept his nerve to keep Croatia out and set up the draw they needed.

    Spain actually grabbed a late win through Fabregas, celebrated like a man who had baked a winning cake, not simply iced it.

    At last, the real Spain showed where they were hiding in a masterful 2-0 quarter-final win against France.

    So what on earth was going on in the listless, lifeless semi-final against Portugal? It's too easy to blame the occasion, and Iberian tension keeping a lid on creativity.

    Why did Del Bosque pick Alvaro Negredo in attack?

    I read the news he was to start against Portugal, accompanied by the prefix 'recognised striker'. Recognised in that he IS a striker, but not recognisable. Alvaro who? I don't care what he's done for Seville, he had no place in that semi-final.

    He was anonymous throughout, and if Mr Ronaldo had kept his cool, calmed down a little, and buried a glorious, glorious late chance, Portugal would have won and Del Bosque would have have paid for his bad selection.

    Del Bosque is a great manager, has signed to carry on as national coach, and is on the cusp of history.

    He's also missing David Villa. A lot. The injured hitman is one of those sporting greats who somehow manages to be underrated while being highly rated!

    His work rate, stretching defences, opens gaps for the genius of the midfield, and when he gets a chance - it's a goal.

    Del Bosque doesn't have Villa. What he does have is the most talented squad, and the most successful squad, in the tournament at his disposal.

    He needs to return to picking the best players, in the right positions, and to stop trying to be so clever. Because he doesn't need to be.



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