Spain’s Exquisite Headache

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The coach that leaves Fernando Torres or Cesc Fabregas on the bench would be deemed certifiably insane — or on the take — in every football playing country in the world, except one: Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque may be forced to do just that, in order to field the formation he believes he needs to bring the World Cup home.

The embarrassment of riches available to the Spanish coach was on view yesterday in their 6-0 thrashing of Poland (see clip above). Players like Torres and Fabregas returned from long spells out through injury to add to the scoreline, but of course, in a friendly, the coach is allowed an unlimited number of substitutions; when things get serious he’ll have only three. And as things stand, he looks set — at least against tougher opposition — to adopt the fashionable 4-2-3-1, with two deep-lying central midfielders screening the defense, a lone striker, and an attacking midfield trident behind him. The defense is settled (Ramos, Puyol, Pique and Capdevilla), the holding players would naturally be Busquets and Xabi Alonso. Barcelona’s Xavi is indispensable as the central playmaker, while Iniesta and Silva would take the wider midfield attacking roles, and David Villa would, by virtue of greater match fitness and a better scoring record for the national team, probably get the nod ahead of Torres as the lone striker. (Torres is just getting back from a knee operation, and he may be restricted to shorter appearances off the bench as the ultimate impact sub.)

Making room for Fabregas would probably require bringing Xavi into a deeper role alongside Alonso or Busquets. To play Torres from the start, he’d presumably have to start on one of the flanks — leaving out Silva, or Iniesta if his thigh injury is more troubling than first thought.

And then the fact that you have such stellar emerging talents as Jesus Navas, Juan Mata, Javi Martinez and young Pedro waiting to come on for cameo roles suggests that Spain could be building towards a long-term era of dominance. As the clip above demonstrates, in a pre-World Cup moment when most national teams are struggling to get their formation and rhythm right, Spain are currently head and shoulders above the rest. Still, tournament football is a funny thing…