Spain win gives Aragones selection headache

June 8, 2006

GENEVA, June 8 (Reuters) - Spain's 2-1 victory over Croatia in their final World Cup warm-up match has left coach Luis Aragones with a series of selection headaches before next Wednesday's opener against Ukraine.

Aragones's decision to depart from his preferred 4-3-3 formation in favour of a more conventional 4-4-2 line-up in the first half failed to give the desired results and Spain continued to struggle to break down the opposition defence.

Jose Antonio Reyes was isolated on the left flank and although Joaquin saw more of the ball on the right he wasted a string of chances to breach the Croat back four.

The presence of Barcelona's Xavi in the starting XI did give Spain more direction in midfield but neither David Villa nor Raul was able to take advantage up front.

The introduction of Fernando Torres in the second half added more dynamism to the attack and although the Atletico Madrid striker missed a penalty he clinched victory over the fellow World Cup qualifiers with a classy injury-time winner.

Worryingly, Spain's previous defensive stability was missing in the first half, and a lack of communication between Pablo Ibanez and stand-in keeper Pepe Reina resulting in an own goal from the centre-back that gave Croatia the lead in the 14th minute.

Debutant Mariano Pernia had a shaky first half on the left side of defence but got Spain back in the match when his miscued free kick bobbled across the area and inside the far post just after the hour.

If the performance gave the Spain coach plenty to think about before the Ukraine match, Aragones was clearly pleased that he has managed to instil a strong sense of self-belief in a side that has now stretched their unbeaten run to 22 matches.

"Mentally the team is very strong," the 67-year-old told reporters after the game. "It is very difficult to come back against a team like Croatia, but we managed to do it.

"We will have plenty of games like this in the World Cup, but if we win them like this that will be great. The important thing is to get through the first phase.

"I have a team in mind, but you have to remember that this is a World Cup and there are 23 players who are battling away every day to win a place in the starting line-up."

Aragones said he was particularly pleased that Torres put his penalty miss behind him to rediscover his scoring touch.

"Fernando is in extraordinary form at the moment, both physically and mentally. I'm really pleased that he has scored again and it will boost his confidence just at the right time."

Spain arrive in their World Cup base in Kamen, near Dortmund in western Germany on Thursday.