By Charlie Scott
Spain take on Croatia in their final group game on Monday, sitting in pole position in Group C and with their eyes focused firmly on the knockout stages of the competition.
Though the usual suspects Xavi and Andres Iniesta have sparkled for La Roja in their first two games, it is a less familiar figure that has proved most incisive during their 1-1 draw with Italy and 4-0 drubbing of Ireland. David Silva has been arguably the European champions' outstanding player as they look to retain their crown in Poland and Ukraine.
A year ago, few people, least of all the player himself, would have predicted that he would be playing such a pivotal role for Vicente del Bosque’s side in this tournament. After two games Silva has been involved in four of Spain’s five goals so far, scoring one and assisting three. As recently as September, Silva hit out at Del Bosque when asked about his position in the Spain squad. “The decision will be the coach's but I doubt I'll have a role in Euro 2012.”
At the 2010 World Cup, Silva was the only casualty following Spain’s opening-game 1-0 defeat to Switzerland, going on to play a meagre four further minutes in the competition, coming on as a late substitute against Germany in the semi-final.
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Del Bosque responded to Silva’s outburst by criticising those around the player for allowing the interview to take place. "This [Silva's comments] is a consequence of the last World Cup. Some players could have had the same complaint and have said nothing. We know that the entourage of some players can cause harm instead of benefiting them," said the coach.
But, fortunately for Silva, rather than being excluded from the group, the exchange between player and manager appeared to clear the air, and in Spain’s friendly with Czech Republic the following month, Silva was handed a starting berth in which he thrived, providing a wonderful assist for Xavi and proving troublesome to the Czech defence throughout as Del Bosque’s side emerged 2-0 victors.
Two goals in a superb all-round performance against Scotland three days later took him to four goals in six appearances during Euro 2012 qualifying and appeared to cement his place in the starting XI ahead of this summer’s tournament.
Against Italy in their opening game Silva’s calmness under pressure allowed his side to take the lead, as the Manchester City man unlocked the opposition’s defence with a delightful through-ball to Cesc Fabregas, who finished the move with aplomb. The spoils were shared in that game, but Spain secured all three points in their next match against Ireland with a comfortable 4-0 victory.
Silva was fantastic in that match, buzzing around in the pocket of space off Fernando Torres, and causing all sorts of mischief, scoring one and providing two second-half assists for Torres and Fabregas. The laid-back manner in which he dispatched his goal, amid a crowd of Ireland defenders, epitomised his style of play and the confidence he is taking into games at club and now also international level.
| "It doesn't matter if we play with a centre forward or a false one. With Iniesta and Silva we can conquer the moon - and that's all that matters."
- Marca's Delfin Melero on the growing impact of Silva
Before the Ireland game, Del Bosque described how Silva “is a very important player for us [Spain]”, and admitted that he may have been too quick to drop the midfielder during the 2010 World Cup following Spain’s first match defeat to Switzerland.
“Perhaps he didn’t have as much time as he might have hoped at the World Cup — but we are counting on him hugely for this tournament,” Del Bosque insisted.
In the past Silva has been a bit-part player for the national side despite being one of La Liga and the Premier League’s outstanding players during his time at Valencia and Manchester City. In the aftermath of that disastrous defeat to Switzerland in 2010 he appeared to be out of favour with Del Bosque, but now he is one of the team’s go-to guys when faced with a stubborn defence.
Where before Silva was in the shadow of the imperious Iniesta and Xavi, now he casts his own.
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