Seth Vertelney: To achieve soccer history, Spain needs Fernando Torres back at his best

Looking to achieve three consecutive major tournament victories, La Roja hopes the Chelsea man can recapture his previous top form.
Four years ago, Spain entered the 2008 European Championship burdened by four decades of high-profile failures.

Champions of Europe in 1964, La Roja subsequently suffered a string of painful exits in international tournaments where it was expected to produce far more than it did.

Following triumphs at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010, though, Spain has flipped the script. Once a perennial underachiever, Vicente Del Bosque's side now sits on the precipice of an unprecedented feat in the annals of soccer.

Never before has a team managed to repeat as European champion. Never before has a team won three consecutive major international tournaments.

Spain is on the brink of pulling them both off.

With a win at Euro 2012, the already-legendary Spain side can justifiably proclaim itself as the greatest of them all.

Of course, Spain's road to immortality was always likely to be treacherous. Where the burden of history menaced for so long, fatigue and injuries have replaced it as the team's principle barriers to glory.

Every team in Poland and Ukraine will feature players coming off a long club season, but Spain's fatigue issues are undoubtedly more pronounced.

Many of the team's star performers ply their trade at Barcelona, a club coming off multiple seasons of long runs in the Champions League, Copa del Rey, and jaunts to Asia for the Club World Cup. The czar of tiki-taka himself, Xavi, is showing signs of breaking down due to chronic Achilles and calf problems.

Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao, with nine members of Spain's Euro side between them, met in the Copa del Rey final on May 25, just 16 days before La Roja’s opening game against Italy.

Fernando Torres and Juan Mata also had precious little rest after the season, having both been a part of Chelsea's miracle run to the Champions League title.

In addition, two of the team's most important cogs have been ruled out of the tournament with injury: Carles Puyol, the heart and soul of the backline, and David Villa, Spain's all-time top scorer.

With Villa out, much of the goalscoring onus will fall to a player who has unwittingly managed to escape the fatigue problems that have befallen many of his teammates.

With 30 starts and 47 total appearances for Chelsea this season, Torres is fresh as a daisy compared with most of his teammates. (Mata, by comparison, made 47 starts and had 53 total appearances.)

By midseason, his uninspiring form had cost him a starting role at Stamford Bridge, and looked like it could cost him a place in the Spain side altogether. However, a late-season revival and an injury to Villa have thrust Torres right back into a central role.

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"Spain will not miss me," Villa said. "There are great goal-poachers on the team and any player can score. I have a great affection for Fernando Torres and I think he is in great form after what he undeservedly went through."

Whether he deserved it or not is an argument for another day, but it goes without saying that the former Liverpool man will be motivated.

Following Chelsea's win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Torres complained about not being selected in the starting lineup for the biggest match of the season.

"It was a huge disappointment when I saw the lineup, perhaps the biggest disappointment in my life," he admitted to AS following the bittersweet triumph on club soccer's biggest stage.

Though Chelsea will have to figure out its plans for the 50-million-pound man, Spain could reap the benefits.

Following the biggest snub of his career, Torres will be eager to show the world he can recapture the form that made him virtually unplayable on his day.

"I felt better and better as the season drew to a close and I believe I am now in phenomenal form," Torres said to the official FIFA website last week.

Spain has enviable striker options if Torres falters, as Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente have proven highly capable with La Roja. Still, the Chelsea man seems primed to get the first chance to impress, as he has the fourth-most caps on the squad, and the most international goals.

At 28, he should be solidly in the prime of his career. He's participated in two European Championships and two World Cups already, having scored the lone goal in Spain's 1-0 triumph over Germany in the 2008 Euro final.

Now he's back on center stage. For Spain to achieve a third-straight glory and soccer immortality, it will need Torres back at his absolute best.