Posted by: mdegeorge | June 29, 2010

Starting XI points: Spain triumphs in Iberian derby

It was the most entertaining battle of Iberia not to include the Moors in some time. Here are my Starting XI points on Spain’s 1-0 victory over Portugal.

– That was one of the more entertaining and fluid 1-0 games you’ll ever see. So often, such score lines are caused by teams not executing their game plan; this game was that way because both teams did what they wanted to do. Spain maintained its trademark possession offense, dominating possession 65-35. They strung together countless passes trying to pry open the Portuguese defense and patiently, methodically wore them down until they had their breakthrough. Portugal, with their stout defensive record, was content to absorb waves of Spanish pressure and counterattack. They could have been successful had Hugo Almeida finished his chances early on.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=spain+portugal&iid=9255988″ src=”″ width=”500″ height=”290″ /]

– For the tactical proficiency shown by Spain today, I have to question why David Villa was split out wide in the first half and early stages of the second. I understand that left back Joan Capdevila is more of a stay-at-home player in deference to the marauding Sergio Ramos, so someone has to fill the attacking void on that wing. But given the choice between putting Villa or Andres Iniesta closer to goal, poacher extraordinaire Villa is a no-brainer.

– That being said, the new Barcelona striker has a heat-seeking cannon of a right foot and should have had two or three goals in the second half. He’s been the most impressive forward in the tournament so far, followed by Luis Fabiano.– When Villa and Fernando Torres are on their respective games, there are few in the world who can contain them. Villa’s is on his at the moment; Torres decidedly is not. Outside of that early chance, he didn’t do much. The trademark of Torres’ game is his antelope-like gallop where he dribbles the ball so far out of his feet you’d never think he can catch up, and his ability to turn with the ball and create scoring chances. The latter skill is most useful in the Spanish game plan, and he looked uncomfortable and ineffectual doing so today.

– Oh Cristiano Ronaldo! Speaking of uncomfortable and ineffectual, get ready for the comparisons between his and Lionel Messi’s tournaments. The latter is striving as the straw that stirs the potent Argentine drink. The former is heading home after a pedestrian Finals. I wonder if he and Wayne Rooney were drinking out of the same Manchester United water bottle.

– Ricardo Costa’s red card might have been somewhat dubious. But there’s no doubting the petulance he showed for the bulk of the half. His elbows were high on every challenge, and he and Villa were exchanging words 20 minutes earlier.

– It’s amazing to see how far Ramos has come as a player. He used to be an athletic and skilled dribbler stuck at right back because he didn’t fit anywhere else. Now, he’s one of the best in his position in the world. He’s excellent in attack and a threat to score goals (such a rarity for his position) while still being a hard tackler and responsible defender.

– If there’s one Portuguese player who deserved a better fate, it was goalkeeper Eduardo. He made seven saves, including a beauty on Fernando Llorente. He was emotionally distraught after the match, but there wasn’t much more he could have done short of trying to get on the end of Fabio Contreao’s crosses himself.

– It’s amazing how little need there is for Spain to introduce subs most times. They have 11 players perfectly suited for their system. The only foreseeable changes late on would be to replace a striker out of exhaustion, change Xabi Alonso for a more defensive central midfielder like Carlos Marchena or a winger like Jesus Navas, or withdraw Capdevila for a more attack-minded winger like Navas, David Silva, or Alvaro Arbeloa. There’s a core of eight or nine guys who’ll never leave the field without an injury for the first 75-80 minutes of a game. Few can boast that.

– I’m also really impressed by the emergence of Sergio Busquets. He’s made Santi Cazorla and Marcos Senna completely superfluous to requirements already. And it means Cesc Fabregas will have to wait until Xabi Alonso retires to hold down a regular spot in the midfield.

– Llorente may just be Peter Crouch with a curly wig and a Spanish pocket dictionary. How would I go about proving that?


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