It remains to be seen if Spain can retain its European Championship crown, but one thing is for sure — Fernando Torres is back. El Niño, who has had a season mostly to forget at Chelsea, scored La Roja’s fastest ever European Championship goal (after three minutes and 22 seconds) and netted its third after 70 minutes in a resounding 4-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland in its second Group C game on Thursday. Uefa named him man of the match.
In a game Spain dominated from start to finish, Manchester City’s David Silva scored Spain’s second on 49 minutes with a calmly sublime tap that slipped through three Irish defenders and past keeper Shay Given, while substitute Cesc Fàbregas wrapped the night up with a narrow-angled thunderbolt on 83 minutes. Spain’s performance doesn’t so much open a debate about whether coach Vicente del Bosque should start with a real number 9 such as Torres or a false one (as he did in the form of Fàbregas in the opening 1-1 tie with Italy) as demonstrate that he has two different routes that he can follow as he sees fit — proof the Spanish coach is no conservative.
Torres, who scored the goal that handed Spain the Euro 2008 title in Vienna, was a long way from his best two years ago during Spain’s World Cup victory in South Africa and has struggled for form since his big-money move from Liverpool to Chelsea in January 2011. But on Thursday night he understood exactly how to generate space to allow Andrés Iniesta and Silva to get into the area from the wings. If he helped Spain play well, it wasn’t just down to his goals but with his movement both on and off the ball.
“We played him so he would do what he did,” said Del Bosque.
“We thought we were going to have the initiative and control of the game and in this setting we wanted to make the most of his skill to play on the limits of offside and look for the spaces. He did it very well.”
“We played a good match from the first minute,” said Torres, who agreed that his early goal allowed him to feel more comfortable. “It wasn’t a disappointment to be a substitute against Italy; we are 23 teammates and we all make up the best team in the world. At this level, it can’t be a disappointment to be on the bench. I was lucky to be in the 11, but if the boss decides to play someone else against Croatia, I’ll understand.”
The result leaves Spain needing a tie against Croatia in its final Group C match on Monday to be sure of reaching the quarterfinals. A win would ensure Spain tops the group, while a 2-2 tie would see Spain and Croatia safely through and lead to Italy’s elimination.
Del Bosque: “The best thing — the central defenders”
“I’m happy because our first objective was to win the match, but we also achieved a second, which was to surpass Croatia’s scoreline against Ireland [3-1]. It gives us a dose of optimism [...] that is very positive for the group.”
This was how Spain coach Vicente del Bosque expressed his contentment with his team’s resounding victory over the Republic of Ireland in Gdansk. As well as the performance of Fernando Torres, he particularly singled out the work of the two central defenders, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué. “What I most liked about the team was that the two central defenders played with a lot of concentration. In the air they counteracted the Irish, who are strong in this regard, and then they brought the ball out well. From this the team steadied itself and felt confident.
Ireland’s Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni offered higher praise for his opponent: “Spain play like an orchestra and do not use up much energy when they play... they can play with their eyes closed,” he said.
The Irish Times was similarly awestruck: “The 4-0 scoreline was a true reflection of what happens when a profoundly brilliant team meets a limited one,” it said.
"At times, it was excruciating to watch through Irish eyes, a bit like having prime seats at the bullring, with Andrés Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernández leading the picadores and banderillas with a relentless flourish of deft flicks and touches that were at once mesmerising, stinging and... quietly fatal."