Photo credit: UEFA
When Spain fielded a 6 man midfield (4-6-0) formation against Italy in the opening day of Euro 2012 Group C most of us asked ourselves: What happened to the best attacking team in the world? How come Cesc Fabregas, an attacking midfielder, was playing the lone "forward" role? Italy, it seems, answered for us by scoring the first goal in that match. Fabregas himself would tie it up a few minutes later. And then it all changed when Del Bosque inserted Fernando Torres for Fabregas. Suddenly, the forward third moved faster, cleaner and more dangerously.
On match day two, Del Bosque decided to start Torres as the lone striker in front of a pentagonal midfield that has Silva, Iniesta and Xavi as attacking options and Busquets and Xabi Alonso as box-to-box players. Scarcely 4 minutes had passed in the game versus Ireland when the Fernando Torres that we all knew and loved from 4 years ago came back with a stunning goal. A steal first, a quick self pass and a no-look, not-thinking strike that inflated the net behind Shae Given.
Spain coasted through the first half and they could have had 2 or 3 more goals. Instead, it was 1-0 at halftime and Ireland remained within striking distance. David Silva would silence the Irish crowd, however, with a well-placed slow-roller through 4 different players that only the best players can conjure. And then it came again, a ball lofted over O'Shea that Torres pounced on like a Serengeti predator. He raced with it until he met Given and went for a "puntazo" with his shot. Goal. Spain 3-0.
Not to be left behind, Cesc Fabregas had only one chance and took it, and from a difficult angle too. His muted celebration said it all: I can score just as much as Torres. And so this is where Spain is now, Torres or Fabregas, or perhaps even Pedro. But clearly, a pure forward allows the Spaniards to keep the ball better and to be far more dangerous in the opposing squad's half.
The numbers in the game said it all: 750 completed passes late in the second half, the most since 1980. The Spaniards have added something different to the world's game, a beautiful style without the need for samba or Messi, a possession-based game that is easy on the eyes, a happiness to every play that has been missing since 1986. This is, perhaps, the best national team ever, for if you were to put Brazil 1970 alongside it, the sheer completeness of this team would stand out.
And if the Spanish are to fall in Euro 2012 then there is only one way to do it: score early, score in bunches and keep the ball away. Italy succeeded, partially, but the match didn't have a finality of the latter stages in a tournament. At this time, however, only one team has the arguments to strip away the Euro champions of their reign: Germany. And what a final that would be.