Spain v Croatia
Gol gol gol de España! 88th minute: Cesc lifts the ball over the defensive line to Iniesta, who rolls it off to Jesús Navas, who blasts it in from inches away. Fernando Torres started as striker but was subbed for a midfielder, Navas, after a dismal hour. Torres saw fewer touches than any other Spanish player except Casillas. Cesc had come on minutes earlier.
Casillas saves! Earlier, the team recently called the Tiki-Taka Taliban and the Spanish Art Project were riding their luck. With Ireland beating Italy, an unanswered Croatian goal would eliminate Spain. Modric produced an immaculate cross for Rakitic and San Iker was forced into another saintly stop. Rakitic nearly had La Roja on a plane heading south.
Spain v Ireland
Fernando who? Days before that, the Fernando Torres we used to know was resurrected in body and spirit. But moving backwards: Cesc, again as a sub, receives a pass from a corner and leaves Shay Given with nightmares. Earlier, Silva dances, megs a defender who was blocking Given’s eyesight, and scores. Even earlier, Torres gets a one on one and manages not to fumble a perfect opportunity.
But the first is the best. It took four minutes for Torres to score his first goal in a competitive match since the 2008 game winner in Vienna. He robs the ball from one green shirt, skips past another, and blasts it over Given’s head. Nothing but net.
Spain v Italy
Perhaps Torres’ start in Ireland was due to Spain’s offensive “sterility” (Mourinho’s words) against Italy. Torres was subbed in for Cesc and immediately created space, seeing three good chances (all flubbed). Earlier, Cesc had gotten the crucial goal that equalized Di Natale’s opener.
Spain v France
Partidazo! The review/preview comes down to two men: Torres and Cesc.
Without Torres, Spain can be narrow and predictable, but he can be a liability. Maybe he serves as a reference for the midfield, stretches the play, and finishes moves off ruthlessly, as against Ireland. Maybe he is visibly unconfident, absent, and confused, as against Croatia.
Playing Cesc as a 9 could mean goalless domination, as in the first hour against Italy.
If Spain are going in reverse, it is because it is too late to experiment and they remain without a clear best eleven.
Or perhaps, as Del Bosque recently said, critics have lost perspective because they expect La Roja to demolish any opposition without difficulty. They have scored more and conceded fewer goals than any team in this tournament. Del Bosque has put out two strikers; both have scored twice. They are undefeated in 18 matches.
Maybe we are seeing things backward. Maybe this team is moving forward.
The game against France will be seen as a vindication of Del Bosque or of his critics, depending of course on who wins.. Who will win?
Which side of the Pyrenees are you on?