Euro 2012: What Spain Must Do to Escape Group Stage
After allowing a second-half goal to Italy in their first group-stage game at Euro 2012, Spain is in danger of suffering a crippling upset. The Spaniards were able to tie it, thanks to a goal by Cesc Fabregas, but they are now on somewhat unstable ground after a draw rather than a victory.
Spain is the defending Euro and World Cup champion and is looking to become the first nation ever to win three consecutive major tournaments.
In order to do that, though, Spain will have to outlast two of Italy, Croatia and Ireland so it can move on to the knockout round. La Roja is still favored to do so, but the talented squad will have to play much more convincingly than it did against Italy.
Here is what the Spaniards must do in their coming group games in order to ensure that they advance to the next round and avoid severe disappointment.
Beat Ireland Decisively
Will Spain advance to the knock-out stage?
While Spain, Italy and Croatia are all high-quality teams, there is no doubt that Ireland is the punching bag of this group. Ireland isn't an awful squad by any means, but it simply doesn't measure up to its opponents in the group.
Croatia took care of the Irish easily by a score of 3-1, and Spain will have to do something similar on Thursday. Croatia currently leads the group by virtue of its win and plus-two goal differential, so to ensure that Spain can get on similar footing, it needs to have its way with Ireland.
Ireland is a very tough and tenacious team, but Spain should be able to run it ragged on the pitch. There is an incredible amount of talent and skill throughout Spain's lineup, even without players like David Villa and Carles Puyol, who are out due to injury.
Spain must roll Ireland not only to get three points in the standings, but to assert its dominance and prove that it is still the team to beat.
Integrate Forwards Into Offensive Attack
This goes for each of their two remaining group matches, but the Spaniards need to employ a more traditional offensive attack.
For whatever reason, Spanish manager Vicente Del Bosque elected to go without a striker for the majority of Spain's first match against Italy. There were times when the Spanish looked dangerous, but without a player to take the lid off the Italian defense, there weren't a ton of threatening moments.
David Silva did thread a perfect pass to Fabregas on Spain's lone goal, but Spain will need to generate more than that moving forward.
Spain's options are obviously limited with Villa hurt, but in order to keep opposing defenses honest, its best bet is to use a forward like Fernando Torres. While Torres struggled mightily at Chelsea this past season and missed a couple opportunities late against Italy, he has the skill to make Spain's offense much more complete.
Even if Torres doesn't totally regain the form he once had while at Liverpool, his mere presence will be beneficial to Spain, as it will keep the Irish and Croatian defenses on their respective heels.
Beat or Draw Croatia
Provided Spain defeats Ireland as expected, it will enter its final group match against Croatia with four points. Regardless of what happens in the match between Croatia and Italy on Thursday, Spain will need at least a point to ensure that it moves on.
Since Italy is a likely candidate to beat Ireland, Spain may very well have to beat Croatia depending upon goal differential. Whatever the case, a loss would be crippling for the Spaniards, so there is truly no room for error at this point.
The Croatians play a very strong team game, so there is no doubt that they have the ability to upset Spain, but the favorites must simply play a sound game and let their talent take over.
Failing to advance out of the group stage would be a major disappointment for Spain, and while a draw against Italy was a bit of a setback, the Spanish squad is still in a perfectly good position to advance. The Croatia vs. Italy match will have a bearing on how things play out, but if Spain takes care of its own business, then it should be fine.
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