Spain Euro 12: Defending Champs Will Continue to Ride Strong Form to Semifinals

Stephen SheehanCorrespondent IJune 19, 2012

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 18:  Gerard Pique of Spain in action during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Croatia and Spain at The Municipal Stadium on June 18, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

After squeaking out a close 1-0 win over Croatia on Monday, defending champion Spain looks to continue its quest for a third Euro Cup title.

Although it took an 88th-minute goal by substitute Jesus Nava to secure a spot in the quarterfinals, the close win against Croatia shows that the champions still know how to finish.

The tournament’s top team dominated possession, but was unable to get many shots on goal.

In fact, if not for two huge saves by goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who recorded his 76th shutout in 134 appearances, Spain may have been on the losing end of the stick.

Despite the unimpressive win, it’s hard to doubt the two-time Euro Cup champions.

The team played excellent defense on Croatian scorer Mario Mandzukic, who had scored three goals in his team’s first two matches before getting blanked by Spain.

Defense has been a key to Spain’s title defense as Casillas has surrendered only one goal in three matches.

The second-oldest player on the team has been a rock in the net, but he’s received plenty of offensive help as well.

Spain leads the tournament with six goals scored and 39 attempts on target, according to the Euro Cup official site.

One of the primary reasons for Spain’s strong start is its group of attacking midfielders.

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 18:  Cesc Fabregas of Spain and Darijo Srna of Croatia battle for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Croatia and Spain at The Municipal Stadium on June 18, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Gett
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

With two goals in three matches, Cesc Fabregas has been a timely scorer for the defending champs.

The 25-year-old scored the game-tying goal against Italy, which proved to be Spain’s only goal of the day.

Besides putting the ball in the net, he came up with another critical play as his assist set up Nava for the winning goal against Croatia.

At times, Fabregas has even outplayed more heralded teammate Fernando Torres.

Torres, perhaps Spain’s most recognizable player and one of the top strikers in the world, did come up with two timely goals after drawing the start against Ireland.

His ability to score at any minute gives Spain a big edge in the tournament.

Looking at his international career, it’s easy to see why Torres is one of the most feared strikers in the game.

In 57 competitive matches, the 28-year-old has scored 21 goals and has 184 in 452 career club matches.

Rounding out Spain’s offensive attack is the reliable David Silva.

The 26-year-old’s versatility and passing ability make him an incomparable threat on the pitch.

Although he owns only 52 goals in 326 career club appearances, Silva is renowned for his ability to set up his teammates.

With 88 assists under his belt, the 5’7” midfielder has done nothing to dispel the notion that he’s a world-class passer.

In Spain’s three matches, Silva has three assists and even chipped in his own score.

With Casillas shutting down opponents, Torres filling the role as an elite scorer and Silva setting up his teammates, Spain looks poised to make a deep run in the Euro Cup.