Why Born-Again Spain Must Go Back to Basics to Beat Italy

Tim StannardContributor IJune 25, 2013

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 23:  Pedro Rodríguez of Spain in action during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Group B match between Nigeria and Spain at Castelao on June 23, 2013 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Spain suddenly appear to be the world’s summer sweethearts due to the hearty manner in which Vicente Del Bosque’s boys have approached the Confederations Cup. Curiously, this sudden popularity and love is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to La Seleccion, an international outfit that continues to divide football fans.

Whilst the reigning world and European champions bring forth the correct amount of respect and praise for the team’s achievements, genuine affection has been harder to find in many quarters. 

Spain has a big love of retaining 99 percent possession of the ball and not doing a great deal with it in any given 90-minute encounter, aside from passing sideways. For some, this leaves the team's games as enticing as watching a persistent dog spending a day getting a biscuit out of a particularly challenging chew toy. 

Let’s not forget that Spain’s 2010 World Cup win saw four grinding 1-0 victories in the knockout stages through to the final. Two years later and the country’s path to European Championship glory was less than thrilling with a tired group just doing enough to reach the final before pulverizing Italy to ensure that not everyone on the planet aside from the players’ mothers had given up on their games. 

The Confederations Cup has seen a change in style for Spain and has certainly won back a few of those who sleep-walked into the opposition camp. Still, there must be risks that this gallant adventurism could cost Spain in Thursday’s semi-final against the old enemy of Italy. 

Of course, Spain’s technical brilliance and the all-round genius nature of the squad is the key to the country’s success of the past five years. But so has a certain energy-saving, just-enough-to-win pragmatism, too.

This philosophy has been abandoned in Brazil, with Spain flying out of the blocks against Uruguay and Nigeria but then running out of porridge in the final minutes.

The temperatures in South America certainly have not been helping matters, a factor that even Del Bosque admitted to the press after the Nigeria win, via Joaquin Maroto of AS.

“It’s very hard when you play 90 minutes in those temperatures. You can’t play full tilt all the time, so you have to slow down occasionally to make time with the ball.”  

It is this slowing down that Spain appears to have softened up on. Fullbacks are bombing forward, the team appears to be trying to get as many footballers into the opposition box as possible, whilst draining counterattacks from the halfway line are actively encouraged. It is all quite unrecognizable from the previously methodical, plodding nature of Spain’s game.

This will not have gone unnoticed by an Italian side looking for Euro 2012 revenge, even it comes in what is a fundamentally friendly tournament.

If Spain revert to their old, more conservative ways, then it will be another difficult night for the Azzurri on Thursday. But if Del Bosque’s side continue to play in a swashbuckling manner, then friends will continued to be won back around the world, possibly at the expense of a painful defeat.