Spain firm in defense in 4-0 rout of Ireland
For all the talk of Spain's attack, its defense also impressed in a 4-0 rout of Ireland at the European Championship on Thursday.
With veteran defender Carles Puyol missing, centerbacks Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos played well together in only their second start as a unit. Fullbacks Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba propped up Spain's attack from the flanks without forgetting about their duties at the back.
And when Ireland did manage to create chances, goalkeeper Iker Casillas was there to deny Simon Cox and Robbie Keane either side of the break - marking his 133rd international appearance.
Fernando Torres scored two goals to get the attack on track following an opening 1-1 draw to Italy, while David Silva and substitute Cesc Fabregas also netted.
Spain and Croatia both have four points at the top of Group C, with the defending champions assured of a place in the knockout stages with a draw.
''It's always important to maintain concentration in all positions, especially in defense with the two strikers they have up front, they are two dangerous players who always fight,'' Ramos said at the Arena Gdansk. ''We should give some credit to our defense tonight.''
Coach Vicente del Bosque was pleased with his improved defense with Spain on the verge of a spot in the quarterfinals.
''We were very concentrated, the centerbacks dealt with all of the aerial threats they had. Their play at the back kept us comfortable,'' Del Bosque said. ''I think we played a complete game.''
Del Bosque had also called on Alba and Arbeloa to join in the attack and the players duly responded. Arbeloa often drifted in behind the defense to create scoring chances, while Alba combined well with Andres Iniesta and David Silva as Spain completed 779 passes in the match.
Even Pique surged forward, with the Barcelona defender heading a clear chance wide in the 26th before having another chance on goal.
Ireland's players were dominated by the World Cup winners, with defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets also rebounding strongly from a forgettable performance against Italy.
''Just pickpockets,'' Ireland striker Jon Walters said. ''We tried to keep the ball as long as we could.''
Spain goes into Monday's final group match at the Arena Gdansk with Croatia in good shape, with the quarterfinals in sight.
''The truth is it's always good to win,'' Ramos said. ''Especially after the opening draw, we were looking for a win. We'll just try to win as many points as possible (now).''
Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP