Due to reasons now irrelevant, Spain v Ireland caught me in Sigüenza, 140km away from Madrid. I hadn’t been here in ages, but it’s worth the trip. Fantastic architecture, amazing views from the top of the village’s castle and impressive sightings wherever you go.
I needed a bar to watch the match, and found one with a fantastic TV screen close to the XII century cathedral. As soon as I sat down I felt it wasn’t the right place: rather than locals screaming like possessed souls and doing all the crazy stuff countryside people do when the national team play, the attendance, mainly foreigners visiting the village, looked composed, almost bored.
Incidentally, I was the only one wearing Spain’s official jersey – number 9, Fernando Torres, three-days old, bought under the pragmatic philosophy of ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’.
And thus the match started. Del Bosque made two tactical modifications to face the proud Irish: first, Torres started replacing Cesc Fabregas, which you and I already knew. Second, both full-backs played much closer to Given’s goal than they had done against Italy. Both modifications approved by this scribe and his foreign mates, by the way.
Ireland shot first, in a brave effort from the unexpected Simon Cox just as the match started, but it wasn’t going to be their evening. After only four minutes, Fernando Torres took advantage of Dunne’s slow reaction after a successful tackle, stole the ball, drove past Ward and unleashed an impressive right-footed shot giving Shay Given no chance. Just like against Croatia, the Irish had fallen behind at the very beginning of the match. I jumped off my seat and screamed while I pointed at the back of my jersey, getting little to no recognition from the rest of the audience.
Spain then applied their usual recipe: overdose of ball possession, which at times becomes a bit pointless, such as when Iniesta and Alba pass the ball to each other five consecutive times without either of them moving one millimetre. However, the Spaniards’ rapid pace often generated chances to score, which they kept wasting for the remaining of the first half.
Ireland’s naïve defending included decisions such as man-marking David Silva with their left back. If you have watched Silva play with Spain, you probably know that he NEVER stays on the wing, therefore Ireland’s left flank became a autobahn for Arbeloa, who shot three times on target and looked much better than he did vs Italy.
During the rest of the first half, the squad looked for Torres constantly, trying to get him involved. Xavi stood out in this department, passing the ball to our #9 even when he wasn’t expecting it. Torres’ contributions to Spain’s offensive game have to do with his ability to run and create space, rather than his passing skills or his decision making with the ball on his feet, and that became especially clear this evening.
The second half started, and yet again Ireland conceded in the early stages of it. Silva scored Spain’s second with a really soft shot, almost a pass to Given’s net. Ireland’s keeper couldn’t see the ball until it was too late, as three players swarmed Silva without being able to dispossess him, obstructing Given’s sight.
From that moment on, it was all downhill for Spain. Trap ordered his men to step forward, and Ireland’s back four started to play almost in the middle of the pitch, which eased Spain’s counters. The Spaniards kept squandering chances, although I should mention one terrific save from Given after Xavi’s shot seemed bound to go in.
Del Bosque decided to take Xabi Alonso out (yellow) and brought Javi Martinez in. A couple of minutes later Ireland made their 15th mistake starting a play from the back and Silva left Torres in front of Given. More awkwardly than me and my foreign mates expected, Fernando found the net for the second time in the match, which gained him an almost immediate substitution. Torres left the pitch like a hero, and a very serious, almost angry Cesc joined the match.
Back to the strikerless formation, Spain again looked like they could use a real striker. With Ireland’s defence almost falling to pieces, the Spaniards lacked a target to feed with through balls, which became even more frustrating with Del Bosque’s last substitution. Santiago Cazorla replaced Iniesta, when myself, the waiter and the Dutch gentlemen in the table next to mine were asking for Navas to counter in a faster way.
Ireland’s naivety reached shocking levels when Cesc scored Spain’s fourth. I can’t remember any top-level team conceding a goal like that off a corner kick. Fábregas celebration, something along the lines of ‘I am mad because I should play and all of you keep asking for a real striker’ was fun to watch. Don’t take it personal, Cesc, you are a fine player. We only need a real striker, that’s all.
The final minutes became a memorable party in the stands. All 22,000 Irish kept chanting nonstop, while the 6,000 Spaniards mimicked the Irish’s chants or sung their own, depending on the melody.
A quick summary of the highs and the lows of this match:
+ Spain recovered their passing rhythm. Silva, Iniesta and Xavi were involved in every single play.
+ Fernando Torres scored twice. Great news. It’s always good to have a striker who defences respect.
+ Both fullbacks participated more and better than in Spain’s debut. They are key, whether Del Bosque wants to play with one striker or with none.
- Torres’ decision making is poor 80% of the times he touches the ball. That said, if he scores the other 20% like today, I am fine with this.
- Del Bosque seems determined not to use Negredo or Llorente. What is wrong with them? Didn’t any of them deserve at least 10 minutes today?
- Sounds flabbergasting to say this after having scored four, but Spain look hesitant in front of the goal. When you need 22 shots on target to score four times, scoring does look like a problem, especially because it’s rare to take more than six or seven shots on goal on any given match against top-level opposition.