How Spain experimented with their tactics and strategies as they registered yet another memorable run in a major tournament.
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Vicente Del Bosque had an option of either going with Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo or Fernando Llorente upfront but instead deployed Cesc Fabregas as a `False 9` against Italy. On the other hand, Cesare Prandelli went with the unusual 3-5-2 system, which meant Daniele De Rossi played a deeper role and Emanuele Giaccherini and Christian Maggio filled in as wing backs.
Spain, understandably, shared the greater possession but couldn`t score a goal, with a formation which was rather narrow and had no spearhead front men. The Italians led the tactical battle as their defense coped with a slightly deeper Spanish frontline with ease. The wing-backs of Italy enjoyed greater freedom as they were neither threatened by the full backs nor the midfield men, who, as earlier said, were playing quite narrow.
Upfront Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli combined efficiently as they swapped positions regularly and worked tirelessly through the channels; often putting the center-backs, especially Sergio Ramos, out of position. And the goal finally came when Di Natale was brought on as a second half substitute as he efficiently finished a through ball threaded by Andrea Pirlo.
Spain`s equalizer came minutes later, but was somewhat out of the blue, as for once David Silva and Cesc Fabregas managed to combine beautifully, with the latter netting the goal. However, their attacking threat was only enhanced when Fernando Torres was brought into the fray and Jesus Navas added some much needed width. Italy, suddenly, found difficulty in coping up with their lesser bodies in defense and had it not been for Buffon`s composure and Torres` lack of confidence infront of the goal, Spain could have clinched the tie.
The Italians, however, did get the better of Spain for the larger part of the match, with Spain lacking penetration and the goal-scoring edge.
Vs Republic of Ireland
Spain switched back to a more conventional formation (4-3-2-1) this time around, with Fernando Torres starting in place of Mr. "False 9" Fabregas. The Chelsea striker repaid his manager`s faith brilliantly scoring a brace against a hapless Irish side. The gulf in class was evident as Spain streamrolled the opponent with utmost ease and finished the game scoring 4 goals to nil.
Spain`s old problems came back to haunt them against a stronger opponent as despite the presence of an out and out striker, the lack of width meant they once again were devoid of penetration and the ability to score goals. It was a rather unimpressive performance by the Spanish side as the Croats seemed to frustrate the defending champions with a 4-2-3-1 system.
Ivan Rakitic played deep alongside Ognjen Vukojevic and occupied the space just in front of the back four, which helped them to nullify the Spanish midfield. As the game grew into stature, the holding players moved into more attacking positions and substitutes like Nikica Jelavic gave Croatia a more aggressive outlook.
However, the introduction of Jesus Navas for Spain in place of Fernando Torres once again added the width in Spanish attack. He not only stopped the opponent full backs from getting forward but also gave the side a new dimension (however, despite the fact that with no striker on the pitch, the winger did not have anyone particular to aim at). David Silva and later Cesc Fabregas had been filling into False 9 roles during Navas` presence on the field.
In a bid to push for a crucial goal, Croatia found themselves slightly less compact at the back at the later stages and that`s when Spain pounced in to grab a late winner from Jesus Navas. It was certainly not a vintage Spanish performance, but a win nonetheless.
Quarter Finals Vs France
Cesc Fabregas returned to the side in a false nine role, meaning Spain played exactly the same eleven that started against Italy in the opening game – a sort of a surprise given it didn`t quite work out then.
France, however, started with two right backs, presumably to nullify Jordi Alba down the flanks, which could have in turn cut off any possible nature of width available for the Spanish team. However, their containment policy back-fired, when one mistake at the back let Jordi Alba occupy a dangerous position and his cross was met ably by Xabi Alonso giving them a 1 goal lead.
From then on, the French never really found any sort of momentum and Xabi Alonso`s penalty kick late into the game sealed the deal.
Semi-Final Vs Portugal
Portugal provided the hardest test for Spain thus far, as they competed with them tooth to tooth, pressing heavily in the midfield and dominating a larger part of the game. The Spanish team surprisingly started with Negredo upfront but he proved quite ineffective.
In the second half, Spain brought on Jesus Navas but instead of retaining an out and out forward, they brought on Fabregas and deployed him at False 9. So, now once again, Spain had the width but the wingers had no one in particular to aim at the box. With the application of Pedro later, the problem remained. Spain dominated the extra time and looked sharper in attack but no one was quite there to provide the finishing touch despite Spain finding themselves in dangerous positions on the flanks.
Eventually, the game went to lottery of penalties and Spain sneaked their way into the final.