Spain defeated France last night to move ahead in their qualifying group thus reducing the risk of a potential play-off to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. While Vicente Del Bosque will be satisfied with the result, the manner of it will still be a cause of concern to the millions watching and also probably him.
With Jordi Alba out, the Spanish manager brought in Nacho Monreal in his place. But the biggest shot in the arm was the inclusion of both Xavi and Xabi Alonso in the midfield. The two ‘X-men’ brought much needed composure and tactical nous to the game which was ultimately decided from a scrambled finish by Pedro Rodriguez.
Against Finland, Spain absolutely dominated possession but most of it seemed ‘sterile’. They lacked penetration and ultimately their only goal came through Sergio Ramos’ header. The game ended in a draw as people began to doubt Spain again. It’s no secret that the world champions often deliver when the tide is against them. And against France, they did just that.
But all is not really well in the Spanish team. The triple European champions lack a killer striker with David Villa still trying to become the striker he once was and with no back-up available to him they are in a difficult spot. Fernando Torres is no more worthy of wearing the Spain shirt while Cesc Fabregas and Pedro are two very different players who offer variety in attack rather than play as a striker.
Spain has struggled to break down sides that park the bus, choke them and rely on swift counter attacks to score goals. They have ground out quite a few 1-0 results in these qualifiers which clearly indicate their inability to find the net at regular intervals. To put things into perspective, Spain have scored more than once only four times in their qualifying campaign thus far. Even at the Euros, Spain struggled when teams denied them the space and only when Italy opened up did Spain run riot.
When teams want to play the ball, Spain undoubtedly increase their odds of winning. But against smaller teams who are content to sit back and absorb, they are still to find a comprehensive winning solution. All they can do is, score a goal and keep the ball. The technical ability and the passing is a delight to watch but without finishing it lacks the appeal which it ideally should.
David Villa may find his form sooner or later but Spain do need another striker capable of towering over physical and closed defenses. Del Bosque has tried Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado but the two men have failed to impress. So, what options does the manager have?
The best solution currently is to integrate the Swansea star Michu into the ranks to offer a certain physical presence in the final third. Michu is technically sound, hard-working and also plays in a more physical league which could really help Spain achieve their objectives. Even in Spain, playing as a primary playmaker, the former Rayo Vallecano man scored 15 goals thus helping him to a reputation of scoring goals in both technically and physically superior leagues.
While there was plenty of clamour to pick Michu, Del Bosque decided to stick to his usual team. His side did win against France, which has reduced the dins of many but he may still need to evolve his team. Spain have lacked a central striker capable of adjusting his game to complement the technical ability of the famed midfield barring Villa. While Torres was excellent in his prime, his main attribute of pace enabled Spain to play a slightly direct game at Euro 2008 than they have played under Del Bosque.
The Cesc experiment did result in a few goals but it should be viewed as a stop-gap solution than the permanent one. While Spain have no reason to change their philosophy, which has won them everything, and more importantly made them the envy of every sporting nation, they do need to adjust to become less predictable.
Jesus Navas and Juan Mata provide excellent variety in attack and both of them being technically gifted is a boon to Spain. With Isco coming up the ranks, Spain have another playmaker vying for the place of David Silva and Fabregas. Del Bosque is spoilt for choice across the pitch except in the final third. Fernando Llorente could have been that guy but his problems with Athletic Bilbao have pushed him away from the squad. Michu appears to be the solution but Del Bosque’s selection policy of retaining players and giving chances to existing ones may prove to be a road block.
Spain have no need to prove themselves again and again. They have conquered the world like no other team before and have even stayed at the top which many thought would have been impossible. But Spain, with their exuberance and their youth do not look like stopping sometime soon. They will go to Brazil as the favorites but will they grind their way to the cup or try to evolve as a team remains to be seen.