It’s hard playing football, not matter how talented your midfielders are, without a natural striker. But maybe Fernando Torres shouldn’t be Spain’s striker, missing two huge opportunities late in the match, as Italy held the European champions to a 1-1 draw in the Group C opener.
Any surprises? Del Bosque did pull a rabbit out of his bag of tricks by fielding six in his midfield – Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas. It did give him more control in the middle of the park, but Spain had problems creating clear cut chances inside the box, as the fortified Italian defense reacted well to the famous passing game.
Eventually, with both teams managing mostly long range shots that tested the preparedness of Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas at both ends, it was Italy that stuck first. Mario Balotelli was done after an arrogant and foolish waste of an opportunity – stealing the ball from Sergio Ramos and losing it 5 meters in front of Buffon’s goal while casually walking instead of playing with some sense of urgency.
His replacement, Antonio Di Natale, hasn’t been exactly superb in the Azzurri Blue, but he brought his Udinese self to Gdansk, the same form that has him scoring twenty goals each season. A wonderful pass from Pirlo found the tiny forward between the Spanish centre backs, and Di Natale produced a wonderful finish in the one on one.
That was the wake up call Spain needed. Andres Iniesta, the best player in the Spanish red, found David Silva, who produced another magical pass like Manchester City fans have gotten used to, finding the surging Cesc Fabregas, beating Buffon only three minutes after conceding the opener.
Del Bosque decided to go for it and open up his rather tight formation, while Italy stayed pretty much the same for 90 minutes. Five at back, eight men defending at all times, hoping to hit and strike through a long ball and an occasional counter attack. Jesus Navas on for Silva and the big joker, Fernando Torres, for Cesc Fabregas.
Spain looked much more dangerous with their two new men, but Fernando Torres is still the unluckiest expensive striker on the planet. His first one on one resulted in a wrong decision and trying to overlap a very clever Gianluigi Buffon. The second one on one resulted in Torres lobbing, ineffectively, over Buffon, instead of passing to an open Jesus Navas.
Spain’s passing game ran into an Italian wall. Not enough spacing and not enough speed and urgency in their play. Italy got what they came for – Not losing in the opener, which clears the way for a more confident performance in the next matches against Ireland and Croatia. For Spain, despite being the favorites heading into the match, not losing like in their opener in the 2010 World Cup should put at least a feint smile on the players’ faces.