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Torres’ patchy form hints at world champions’ decline

This may be the best Spanish team the world has seen, but it is struggling to live up to the heights of its European Championship-winning performances in 2008. The team needs new options and Fernando Llorente might be one man who can provide them.


Is Chelsea's Torres now surplus to the requirements of Spain?

Whisper it quietly, but not all is fresh in the state of Spain. When Vicente del Bosque’s team lifted the World Cup in 2010 –adding to the European Championship title La Roja won in 2008 under Luis Aragonés– the world prostrated itself at the feet of the slickest passing side in history. Among Spain’s players, there was a consensus that the tournament in Austria and Switzerland had proved an epiphany. Aragonés had largely removed the cult of idolatry by removing Raúl from the squad; he had, as Xavi put it recently, taken a gamble by betting on the bajitos –himself, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, Davids Villa and Silva, for example– and Spain finally beat its bête noire, Italy, and the psychological barrier of not having reached a major tournament semifinal since Euro 1984.

But has Spain really played well since then? Fernando Torres provided the goal in the final to send a nation into meltdown, but not since the semifinal of Euro 2008 has Spain run its sword through a side as it did against Russia. Del Bosque’s team strolled through an amenable qualifying group to reach the World Cup, was beaten by the USA in the Confederations Cup in 2009 and struggled against Saudi Arabia and South Korea in pre-tournament friendlies. Beaten by a Switzerland side drilled to perfection by wily veteran Ottmar Hitzfeld, Spain went the rest of the World Cup unbeaten. The team won all of its matches in the knock-out stages 1-0, although it rarely failed to ignite the South African crowds with its patented tiki-taka style.

Spain’s decline, if it dare be called that, ties in with Fernando Torres’ slump in international goalscoring form and the emergence of Fernando Llorente as a viable alternative to the bajitos and the lightning quick passing game. Since the Confederations Cup, Torres has scored just four times for Spain – against Macedonia and in a 6-0 spanking of a woeful Poland side in friendly games, plus two in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Liechtenstein. David Villa has filled the breach admirably, establishing himself as Spain’s pre-eminent striker and surpassing the national scoring record held by Raúl with his match-winning brace against the Czech Republic last Friday, a game in which Torres was an ineffectual second-half substitute.

But Spain’s recent malaise runs deeper than the misfiring Chelsea striker’s own barren run.

“We lack motivation, that’s for sure,” admitted Xavi in a recent interview. “But when we’ve had to win, when there have been points in play, we haven’t failed.”

That may be true –and the mantle of world champions had led Spain on largely grease-palming friendly exercises to Argentina and Mexico, the former a 4-1 drubbing, the latter a lackadaisical 1-1 draw– and in every instance Spain has dusted itself off from defeat to win in qualifying games. Routine victories against Liechtenstein and Lithuania followed the South American setbacks; a hard-fought 3-2 win in Scotland preceded a 4-0 thrashing by Portugal in a game viewed as friendly on only one side of the Iberian border. Spain eked out a 1-0 win in a soporific match against Colombia at the Bernabéu before recording two more qualifying wins to practically assure its presence at Euro 2012.

Escaping tiki-taka

The problem facing Del Bosque is how to take Spain’s less natural strengths to mould a Plan B; many sides are aware of how to counter tiki-taka, even if many lack the personnel to do so. A clue was given in the coach’s line-up in Lithuania, with Torres not even setting foot on the much-maligned field. Villa and Santi Cazorla supported Llorente in a front three, the Athletic Bilbao striker forcing Kijanskas into conceding an own goal to give Spain the lead. In the World Cup match against Portugal, Llorente marked the difference. His head gave Spain victory against Saudi Arabia. The Athletic striker scores a goal every two games for his country. Torres’ record is closer to one in three.

“The most difficult thing at international level is learning how to win,” Torres said while glad-handing in Madrid before the Czech match. Much like his teammates, the former Atlético striker is obliged to carry out a plethora of official visits and acts whenever he is on international duty.

With Llorente’s importance to the team underlined, Villa’s number one status assured and the 4-3-3 system being tested by Del Bosque, that may be all Torres is required to do in the run-up to the finals.

“Sometimes, with success, you can become complacent, but luckily there is another challenge, something no team has done, which is to win a third tournament in a row,” the striker said last week.

Spain has proved that it has the players to do so, with or without the man who performed the final act in its contemporary renaissance. The time may have come for La Roja to paint its history in the broader strokes of Fernando Llorente.

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Published: Mar 30 2011
Category: Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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2 Comments for “Torres’ patchy form hints at world champions’ decline”

  1. How very English. When anyone gets to the top, you can’t wait knock them down again.

    Of course when you are the best in the world the only direction you can go is down. So what – they still play brilliant entertaining football.

    • or tipical spanish!
      that’s why soccer wasn’t invented in 2008…… since that moment the self proclaimed KINGS OF THE WORLD think everything is just bad, boring anti-fairplay, slow ecc….fuentes?

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