By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
When Spain's players emerged triumphant from last summer's World Cup final against the Netherlands, there was one winner who looked rather less happy than the rest. Fernando Torres had been a part of La Roja's success in South Africa, but his performances had been disappointing all the way through the tournament and he had lost his place for the showpiece encounter against the Dutch.
Weeks later, Torres spoke of his joy at lifting football's biggest prize, but also of his frustration at being unable to shine on a personal level or score a vital goal, as he had done in the final of Euro 2008 just two years earlier.
Aiming to win a place | Negredo looks to have edged ahead of Torres
Torres underwent knee surgery just two months before the World Cup and faced a race in time to be back for the competition. His subsequent off-colour performances were put down to a lack of fitness and games. He would soon return to his brilliant best, it was claimed.
But he hasn't.
Following a few unhappy months back at Liverpool, where he been sensational in his first three seasons, despite suffering from injuries, Torres sought to revive his career with Chelsea. The striker upset Reds fans as he moved in a €58 million deal which was supposed to revive a flagging international career.
But it hasn't.
The Spain striker has scored just one goal in 21 appearances for his new club and currently looks anything but a sound investment on the part of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. And to compound his misery, Torres is now losing his place in the national side as well.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque not only left out Torres in his side's Euro 2012 qualifier on Tuesday, but decided there was no room on the bench either for the former Atletico Madrid man. Torres watched on glumly as Spain racked up a six-goal victory over Liechtenstein and sealed their place at the continental competition with two matches to spare.
|THE ROAD TO EURO 2012 | Group I qualifying results
Out of form and niggled by an adductor problem, the 27-year-old saw Spain start with a three-man forward-line comprised of David Villa, Juan Mata and Alvaro Negredo. Villa, who scored twice to take his international tally to 49 goals, is unquestionable in this team, and while Torres' club colleague Mata can operate in several different positions, the Chelsea striker should be more concerned with the form of Negredo, who also bagged a brace and made it five goals in seven appearances for Spain.
Del Bosque called up Negredo for Spain's summer tour of the United States and the former Real Madrid youngster scored in the 4-0 win over USA. The coach has been impressed with the form of the Sevilla striker and his inclusion on Tuesday will have sent a clear message to Torres, that he must return to his best in order to feature in this side.
Negredo isn't Torres' only concern, however. Athletic Bilbao forward Fernando Llorente appears to be above the Chelsea striker in the pecking order as well, while Del Bosque can use midfielders Mata, Andres Iniesta and David Silva in advanced positions, too, thus removing the need for another striker.
A further option is to utilise Barcelona's on-form Cesc Fabregas as a 'false' 9, an experiment already tried out successfully by Pep Guardiola at Camp Nou and which will have crossed Del Bosque's mind as well after the midfielder came off the bench to score two key goals in Friday's 3-2 win over Chile.
“I really understand his disappointment. He's a great team-mate, though, and he is still one of the leaders of this team.”
- Alvaro Negredo
Torres' record of 27 goals in 87 internationals is a decent one, but is a far less spectacular strike-rate than that of team-mate Villa, which has seen the Asturian rack up 49 in 78 games. On top of that, there is the growing feeling that Torres' play is not ideally suited to Spain's 'tiqui-taca' system in any case, that his pace and power allowed him to hit heights in England due to the fast and physical nature of the Premier League.
But in a high-tempo side and at the top of his game, there remain few better strikers round than Torres, and Chelsea coach Andre Villas-Boas will hope the signings of Mata and Raul Meireles can see the Spaniard return to the form which saw him score an impressive 81 goals in 142 games for Liverpool. And in that sort of mood, El Niño would be useful to Spain as well, whatever their system or style of play.
Should he fail to find it, though, the striker's international future could be bleak.
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