By Jose David Lopez
There was no sign of what was to come, no indication. Vicente del Bosque kept his cards close to his chest ahead of Spain's second Group C game against Ireland on Thursday, after Spain had opened with a 1-1 draw versus Italy in their opening match four days earlier.
Before the start of the tournament, Fernando Torres looked to have got the nod to start in the striker role vacated by the injured David Villa, but Del Bosque sprang a surprise by choosing Cesc Fabregas for the Italy match. And although the Barcelona midfielder scored, doubts remained.
So in came Torres on Thursday and the Chelsea striker netted twice before departing late in the game. Cesc then added another, meaning the two players now have two apiece from identical game time over two matches. So which of the two should start for La Roja in the Group C decider against Croatia on Monday?
Goal.com looks at the two strikers and how they have fared in their respective roles so far at Euro 2012.
|SPAIN WITH TORRES IN THE STRIKER ROLE
The Madrid-born striker has gone through numerous changes in his state of mind over the last year. Buoyed by his signing for Chelsea at a time when he needed a change, Torres than faced the disillusion of failure after his expensive transfer from Liverpool and even briefly lost his place in the national team several months ago.
Torres was left on the bench in the Italy game, eventually replacing Fabregas for the final 16 minutes on Sunday and adding another dimension to the Spain attack. But he couldn't convert his chances, missing two one-on-one opportunities to beat Gianluigi Buffon as the two teams tied in Gdansk.
Against Ireland, however, it was a different story. This time Torres started and opened the scoring with a fierce drive before running clear to add a second (and third for Spain) in the second half. He was then taken off after 74 minutes.
In total, then, he has two goals in 90 minutes of football for Spain and appears a more natural choice in the forward role, even though he had been previously considered an alternative by Del Bosque in that position. His two goals against Ireland took him to 30 for Spain and now he looks much more than an alternative, giving Spain pace in the middle and a natural point of reference in attack.
|SPAIN WITH FABREGAS AS A FALSE NINE
Like Torres, Cesc has experienced a season of mixed emotions. Thrilled at finally moving to boyhood club Barcelona, the former Arsenal captain made a dream start by winning the Spanish Supercopa and the Uefa Super Cup in his first two games, playing a key part after coming on as a substitute in the former and scoring his first goal for the Catalan club in the latter. But Fabregas' form dipped after the midfielder was used in a number of different positions by Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola tried Fabregas in a false-nine role in pre-season and then later in several Liga fixtures. And the plan worked well as the midfielder was in excellent scoring form at the beginning of the campaign. But the goals dried up and after ending the season with an injury, the 25-year-old was a surprise starter on Sunday.
Cesc converted against Italy in a game which saw him link up excellently with his midfield colleagues but fail to get himself into scoring positions for the rest of the night. Subsequently criticised following the false-nine experiment, he saw himself relegated to the bench for the second match, emerging to replace Torres and score a fine fourth for Spain late on against Ireland as he smashed the ball in off the post from an angle.
Fabregas also has two goals in exactly 90 minutes now. Those strikes have come from just four shots, making him more effective than Torres, while one arrived after his introduction as a substitute. He also contributes greatly to the collective possession plan and, it is worth remembering, received the majority of his game time against a much tougher opponent.
Decisions, decisions | Del Bosque must choose the right man to face Croatia
So who should start? Torres and Fabregas have the same amount of goals from the same minutes played at Euro 2012, but their roles could not be more different. Del Bosque can choose from a 23-man squad and has further forwards at his disposal in Fernando Llorente, Alvaro Negredo, Pedro and Juan Mata.
But Torres and Cesc look like they are ahead of the rest at the moment. Now, the Spain coach will have to decide which of the two starts against Croatia on Friday in Spain's next big test: false-nine Fabregas or true-nine Torres?