Spain left with questions after opening Euro draw
Publicly, Spain feels like it's on course to defend its European Championship title. Privately, the team is grappling with questions after opening the tournament with a draw against Italy.
The absence of David Villa has left the world champion's attack exposed as Fernando Torres struggled, failing to convert a number of chances in Sunday's 1-1 draw.
While Cesc Fabregas equalized after being handed a starting spot in attack, Spain's normally vibrant midfielders didn't press forward until after Antonio di Natale's opening goal.
In Spain, the spotlight was on Torres and whether coach Vicente del Bosque made the correct decision with his starting lineup, and what formation would be chosen for Thursday's Group C match against Ireland.
Spain held 60 percent of possession but was largely outplayed in the first half when it failed to create much danger near the area.
Del Bosque's insertion of Fabregas failed to surprise Italy, and former Spain coach Luis Aragones said the team's lack of a traditional striker inside the box allowed its opponents to repel the Spanish attacks.
''With Torres on the field and (Jesus) Navas on one wing and (Jordi) Alba on the other side, the Italian defense wasn't as comfortable as in the first half, when they cleared the ball with ease,'' Aragones wrote in Spanish sports daily Marca on Monday.
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, who attended the game, agreed with Aragones.
''Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc's touch passing isn't good if it doesn't create any danger in (Gianluigi) Buffon's area,'' Mourinho said on Al-Jazeera. ''The team looked sterile without a striker.''
Del Bosque offered no hint at whether he would alter his formation against the Irish with strikers Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo both ready to step in with Torres struggling. Llorente has been bothered by some lower body injuries following a long club season with Athletic Bilbao, which he helped guide to two cup finals with 29 goals in all competitions.
Spain also criticized the PGE Arena field for being too dry, although neither players nor Del Bosque presented any official complaint after Saturday's training session.
But the world champions will likely have to contend with such conditions for all its group games in Gdansk, with some of the team's normally outstanding players looking slow on the ball following another long club season.
The field may be the least of its worries with the attack clearly missing Villa, the country's all-time leading scorer who at the top of the scoring chart at both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. Villa's cutting runs and pace always stretched the defense, something Del Bosque's system didn't do until Navas replaced David Silva following Fabregas' goal.
While Del Bosque looked frustrated at times along the sideline, the 61-year-old coach certainly didn't sound it afterward.
''The plan didn't turn out so bad,'' Del Bosque said. ''I don't leave here frustrated. We made a tremendous effort.''
Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP