Spain may have stuttered through the group stage of Euro 2012, but by no means is this tournament about to fold on them. Notoriously slow to start, the game against Croatia provided Spain with a perfect wake-up call as they shape up for their next opponents, France.
Against Croatia, much as against Italy in their Group C opener, Spain were underwhelming. Vicente del Bosque’s team have been here before though – in 2010 to be exact. They started off with a loss to Switzerland in South Africa, a result that sent shock waves around the country. Narrow victories over Honduras and Chile followed, but the eventual outcome was Spain claiming their first World Cup.
Now, Spain are far stronger and more experienced. They also have extra quality at their disposal that was absent from the squad last time. The likes of Fernando Llorente and Juan Mata are yet to even kick a ball, while others, such as Santi Cazorla and Javi Martínez have only made brief cameos. Spain boast an abundance of riches that any team would be envious of.
The starting eleven is where the strength lies, though. Del Bosque’s commitment to continuity within the team has allowed them to fine tune the system. Andrés Iniesta is the one player who has risen above the labouring performances thus far; the variation he provides in his movement and passing gives Spain that extra dimension. Him aside, the system has been creaking and flaws have been exposed. These were merely the opening exchanges of the tournament, however. Now, the real business begins.
Spain’s players came out after the Croatia game knowing they were so nearly dumped out, but pleased that their patience eventually paid off. They continued to work the ball and dominate possession, before pouncing upon a desperate Croatia late on. It was all about timing: as Slaven Bilic sent on extra attacking minded players, Del Bosque countered with some of his own – Cesc Fábregas to cause chaos with his movement, and the direct running of Jesús Navas in the right channel. Both played a part in the goal, with Navas scoring from an Iniesta assist after Fábregas’s lofted pass. It was simple, yet deadly.
This is the sort of strength that Spain can draw on against France, and any other team that comes their way. France’s defence was exposed in the defeat by Sweden, and Del Bosque will have noted this. Spain are better than Sweden, so France could be in for a rocky ride.
Despite all the criticisms levelled at Spain, the statistics look good for Del Bosque’s side; they’ve had the most shots, scored the most goals, conceded the fewest, had the most shots on goal and have allowed the fewest in return. All they need now is to add some vibrancy to their play and opponents will collapse before them – it seems almost inevitable, a case of making all the parts fit.
Spain are just warming up before the big race and stretching their muscles. But now it’s time to exert their superiority, just like they did in 2010.
You can still back Spain to win Euro 2012 at an incredibly appealing 3.60.