Spain success depends on lineup choice

Spain success depends on lineup choice

Published Jun. 13, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

Thursday night, the soccer world will be standing by the Xerox machine. Everyone is waiting for Spain’s teamsheet. Ten of the eleven players selected by Vincent del Bosque to line up against the Republic of Ireland in Gdansk won’t cause much of a stir. But that final name – that is major news.

Why? Del Bosque sprang a surprise in the opening game against Italy by choosing to play without a striker. No Fernando Torres. Not even one of the other authentic forwards pushing for a starting place in Alvaro Negredo or Fernando Llorente. In the end, Spain played a system with six midfielders, and pushed up Cesc Fabregas, who was by all accounts as surprised as anybody to be asked to fill this role.

“Even I didn’t expect that,” the Barcelona man said afterwards.

The debate about the decision has been been passionately argued in Spain and across the world. Although Fabregas scored Spain’s equalizer, the overall picture was not dazzling enough to be completely convincing.


Will there be a repeat? Will del Bosque persist with his strikerless system and retain faith in the creativity of his midfielders? Or will he tilt his team by introducing a striker to give more presence and edge to their play up front? To be sure, Spain were more dangerous in the later stages against Italy when Torres came on, even if the Chelsea man strained to find his deadly form in front of goal that has been elusive for a while.

One thing is certain, Spain will not abandon the “tiki-taka” passing style that has been their hallmark over the most successful period of their history. It has propelled them to a European Championship and World Cup double, and put them in a position to aim for an unprecedented hat-trick of titles.

They are unlikely to worry too much about their next match against a Republic of Ireland team that shot themselves in the foot against Croatia. But they do know they will come up against a team, led by the wily old Italian Giovanni Trapattoni, who will do whatever they can to erect a brick wall to keep Spain at bay.

Ireland have little option but to attempt to emulate the tactics famously executed by Chelsea to deny Barcelona in the Champions League – a sort of blueprint for teams who do not have the technical wonders of their opponents and cannot expect much possession of their own.

"Really, we don't care if Ireland set up like that. Spain will remain true to the philosophy of football which has taken us this far and brought us success,” said Sergio Busquets, Spain’s midfield protector — and a man who has expressed frustration that his team are already being questioned at this stage.

"I think there is a lack of patience shown when Spanish international football is being analyzed,” said Busquets. “But if we don't win, there always seems to be a 'but' from somebody or other.”

Fabregas was pretty relaxed about things. “Italy was the hardest match we have in this group,” he said. “It's all up to us: with two victories we can still get first place.”

Although it was not a perfect start for Spain as they drew against an Italy side that looked strong and focused, it was an improvement on their opening game of the 2010 World Cup. They lost to a Switzerland team who defended as if their lives depended on it, and had only one chance all game. From that bombshell, they went on to win the tournament, so although there is room for Spanish improvement, it is certainly far too early to panic.

That would be allowed if they somehow falter against Ireland.