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Come in number nine as Spain look for the gloss
Published : 27 Jun 2012 23:17:32
Spain star Andres Iniesta insisted ahead of his country's Euro 2012 semi-final penalties nerve-shredding win over Portugal that high-tempo, tiki-taka football, which did after all secure Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup triumphs, was not boring.
Rather, it is the fault of other teams "who shut up shop, who only try to stop you hurting them."
Yet on Wednesday's evidence there is only so much that hundreds of neat passing interchanges can achieve with no end product.
After 120 goalless minutes haring up and down Portuguese cul-de-sacs it therefore appears an apposite time to pose the question: Would the real Spanish number nine stand up and be counted?
Coach Vicente Del Bosque appears to be permanently unconvinced that Fernando Torres, despite having the relevant squad number, can do the job - despite his two goals against Ireland.
Instead, Del Bosque sprang a surprise Wednesday in selecting Sevilla striker Alvaro Negredo, whom he had previously afforded only two minutes game time.
Jesus Navas had been their match-winner in the final group game against Croatia - but Torres and 'false nine' Cesc Fabregas had otherwise produced the goal threat - with the exception of Xabi Alonso's brace in the quarters against France.
However, Del Bosque elected to give Negredo his chance, presumably secure in the knowledge that the Furia Roja have won all 11 of the matches he has appeared in - the Spanish had in any case won all but six of their last 47 competitive matches going into the Portugal encounter.
Moreover, Negredo had netted on three of the occasions he has gone up against Portugal's Real Madrid defender Pepe.
In the event, he did not shine and Fabregas was soon into the fray after the break.
Many observers had had an inkling Del Bosque, shorn of Barcelona star David Villa through injury, might instead give the nod beforehand to Fernando Llorente, who played a blinder against the Portuguese in their round of 16 World Cup success two years ago in Cape Town.
Instead, Del Bosque kept the man nicknamed the Lion King in his cage once more on the bench and the coach appears to enjoy the guessing games with the media as Llorente has not appeared at all so far, despite being pencilled in as the first choice striker when the squad was first named.
Then, Torres was looking listless at Chelsea, Negredo just made it and Roberto Soldado missed the cut.
For reasons best known to himself, Del Bosque's anyone-but-Torres approach carried the day in terms of team selection and, by a whisker, the result went Spain's way too.
Del Bosque recently opined that "David Silva is the Spanish (Leo) Messi" - but the Manchester City man paled by comparison Wednesday and gave way to the even less Messi-like Sergio Busquets.
On this sterile evidence, perhaps ultimately Del Bosque will revert to Torres after all.
Or perhaps not.
At least the absent Villa will not feel too guilty.
Not only is Spain's record goalscorer injured but the Barcelona man wears the number seven for his country.