So far so good for unflappable Del Bosque
GROUP C SPAIN v REPUBLIC OF IRELAND REACTION:WHEN JOHANN Cruyff signed for Barcelona in the summer of 1973, he was quickly anointed as El Salvador after a debut season in which he transformed the team from La Liga also-rans to champions for the first time in 13 seasons. The Dutch man had a profound impact on football and culture in Catalonia.
Almost 40 years on, Spanish football gods are home-produced. But comparisons to the Dutch team of Cruyff’s generation were unavoidable on Thursday night as Spain deconstructed Ireland while making perfect football look as easy as child’s play.
Now, it is Spain rather than the Netherlands who are the envy of the football world and the difference is they enthral while also winning tournaments. And the belief system of Vincente del Bosque is emerging as the chief fascination of this championship.
Even after the glittering 4-0 win, the Spanish coach was quizzed on his persistent fondness for sending out teams without a recognised striker.
Fernando Torres’ two goals against Ireland substantiated the argument that the system was trouble in the making. Del Bosque, unflappable at the best of times, was grandly indifferent to the consternation over his decision to sometimes play with a “false” number nine.
“We are playing all the possibilities that we can. We have 23 who can play perfectly well but we can only play 11. We have been criticised for the system but now we won and can show them that it works. We put Torres in so he could do what he does best. We also trust Cesc Fabregas and he scored as well.”
And that was at the heart of it: giving sufficient game time to the sublime array of players at his disposal has become one of del Bosque’s more pressing tasks.
Torres was given the man-of-the-match award after his return to the lethal form of old but he was under no illusion about the fact he might be back on the bench against Croatia. He shook his head when asked if the vengefulness of his performance against Ireland originated in his disappointment at being left out for Spain’s opening game.
“No, it is not a disappointment because in a squad like ours, anyone can play. I was lucky to be selected. Two goals . . . was nice. But in the next game if the manager decides not to play without a striker, then everything is fine and the important thing is that we can win the competition.”
Spain are progressing in this tournament under enormous international scrutiny. Ireland may have looked hopelessly lost against the world champions but that was partly because they met the Spaniards when they were loose and perfectly calibrated and, it seemed, in love with playing the game as only they can.
But still del Bosque had to answer questions for a Spanish public besotted with the potential of this team. It was put to him that four goals was all very well but that it could have been more.
“No, I am very happy,” del Bosque said. “Our objective was to win the match. But we also wanted to score more than Croatia and we managed to do that. It is great for the morale of the team.
“I think we have concentrated on the defence. They played well, especially the centre backs, and the team was more comfortable on the pitch. We managed to create opportunities and we played well. Overall, we played a very complete match.”
And the thing was, they didn’t look to be trying particularly hard. As Giovanni Trapattoni pointed out, Spain’s passing is so precise and economical, they actually conserve energy in attack. Several of the Irish players admitted after the match that whenever they got possession, they were so wrecked from chasing Spanish shadows that they couldn’t really attack.
Spain destroyed Ireland without trying particularly hard, which is an ominous sign for other teams with an eye on their crown.
For del Bosque, the focus moves on to the next game against Croatia. It says much about the power shift in Europe that the Spanish coach was badgered by Italian journalists anxious about the possibility of Spain and Croatia playing out a draw and thereby eliminating the Italians from the group.
But he promised Spain would approach their final game with the same intent as they brought to Ireland: to attack, to score and to win.
“I don’t think you can be calm in any competition. You have to be aware of everything. This result takes us forward. I think we found what we needed.
“The Irish were defending very well but we have shown that we are very secure with the ball and we can play from one side to the other, we can score, we can shoot and I feel we played really well. And of course we will try to win against Croatia; we won’t play for a draw. We don’t want to make calculations and we will play for a victory.”