As is the case in every game Spain plays in, it is an important question to ask: Should Fernando Torres start?
Short answer, no.
In Spain's first game of Euro 2012, coincidentally played against Italy, Torres started the game on the bench. In his stead, Cesc Fabregas was chosen to head the attack for Spain as a false No. 9.
While the strategy had mixed results and the game ended in a draw, Torres had his best showing of the tournament, the game against Ireland excluded.
Despite the fact he didn't score a goal, Torres' 20 minutes of action produced about as many chances as his time in the Ireland game. The only difference was that he forgot his shooting boots in the locker room.
Italy had held Spain in check the entire game, outside of the one chance that resulted in Fabregas' goal. Then, upon Torres' insertion in the 74th minute, the Italians suddenly couldn't find a man. Torres was running unmarked every time he touched the ball, resulting in a handful of scoring chances that had everything but the finish.
Without Torres, Spain are not an incisive, threatening team. The best chance they have to score is playing their patented one-two through balls into the box, but teams are more than ready for those at this point. A team as good defensively as Italy is will be vigilantly watching for such situations and will shut the vast majority of them down before they become a threat.
But that's what Spain has to do. By leaving their best scoring threat on the bench until about the hour mark, they will give Torres a chance to run rampant against the tired Italian defense. Torres' presence also changes the dynamic of the offense, which forces the defense to adjust.
When Spain opened their Euro 2012 group stage against Italy, the Azzurri failed to make that adjustment.
Spain's No. 9 is always a mystery on the pitch and you never know what he's going to give you on a given day. But starting him is a commitment Spain can't afford. If he trots about and wastes space for an hour, Spain's chances of winning will decrease steadily.
If Spain struggles to break through the Italian defense and needs a spark, swapping Torres on late is still a risk, but certainly a less weighty one than starting him from the opening whistle.
One would expect Italy to be more prepared to face a late appearance by Torres, but Spain must give him a go late.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!