SOCCER

Stay-at-home Villa to miss Euros

Vicente del Bosque has three days to choose replacement for Spain’s top scorer

David Villa breaks his leg while playing against Al Saad at the Club World Cup in Japan last December.
David Villa breaks his leg while playing against Al Saad at the Club World Cup in Japan last December.REUTERS

The announcement that David Villa will not be available for Spain’s defense of its European Championship crown in Poland and Ukraine has left a huge hole in the designs of national team coach Vicente del Bosque.

On naming his provisional squad for the tournament last week, the World Cup-winning manager said he would wait until the last minute to allow Villa to fully recover from a fractured tibia sustained during Barcelona’s Club World Cup campaign in Japan but on Tuesday the player ruled himself out of contention: “I tried right to the end but I wasn’t able to get to 100 percent for the Euros,” the striker wrote on social-networking site Twitter. “Today I called the coach to tell him. It was the most honest thing to do.”

Villa is Spain’s leading all-time scorer with 51 goals (although one is disputed by Fifa) in 82 games with the national side. Furthermore, he doesn’t just bang them in against half-hearted opposition in friendly matches; the Barcelona player was the deadliest striker at Euro 2008, joint top-scorer at the 2010 World Cup, and bagged three at the 2006 edition, including a double in his first World Cup appearance. In terms of goals-to-minutes ratio, only the great Alfredo di Stéfano betters the diminutive Asturian.

As Spain’s Málaga midfield schemer Santi Cazorla concisely summed up of Villa’s importance to the team: “If he hadn’t been at the Euros and the World Cup, Spain wouldn’t be champion.”

Del Bosque now has a few days to seek the best solution to the conundrum that has been forced upon him. In the current provisional 23-man squad for the tournament the coach has four strikers: Fernando Torres, Roberto Soldado, Álvaro Negredo and Adrián López. Fernando Llorente, a fixture in the team as preferred back-up to Villa, will join the national training camp after the King’s Cup final with the rest of the Athletic and Barcelona players.

These may now include Iker Muniain, who has had a spectacular season with The Lions, and possibly Pedro, who has seen his star wane somewhat in 2011-12 but who started the World Cup final and would still walk into most sides competing in Poland and Ukraine. Before announcing his definitive list on May 27 Del Bosque will have to discard at least one, maybe more, of his forwards.

When faced with a similar personnel problem against Venezuela earlier this year — only Llorente and Soldado were available — Del Bosque packed his midfield with goal-scoring menace, used attacking full-backs and stuck Llorente up front on his own. The plan half-worked; Spain’s first two goals came from Andrés Iniesta and David Silva, but the Athletic man was largely isolated. Soldado came on to replace Llorente and promptly bagged a hat-trick, and probably his plane ticket east.

Del Bosque observed before that game that Spain can play as his Real Madrid side did, without a fixed striker and with plenty of movement between the lines, a policy that favors Muniain and Adrián.

The great incognito is Torres, who scored the winning goal in Vienna in 2008 but who has had a woeful season, and was not even considered as one of five Chelsea penalty-takers in last week’s Champions League final shoot-out.

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