By Alberto Pinero
Spain took an important step towards the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 on Thursday with their 4-0 win over Republic of Ireland. In their first match, against Italy, La Roja left doubts with a performance which failed to convince as Cesc Fabregas started in the false-nine role. But in their second game, with Fernando Torres spearheading the attack, Spain found their form with a performance packed with clever combinations, passing, possesion and, more importantly, goals.
In their opening fixture, coach Vicente del Bosque began without a recognised striker and was bombarded with criticism afterwards, even though Fabregas, taking on the false nine role, scored the side's only goal to cancel out Antonio Di Natale's strike minutes earlier. Torres came on as a substitute with 16 minutes remaining but was unable to win it for Spain, despite two great chances late in the game. Against Ireland, however, his two goals proved crucial - particularly the first after just four minutes.
Torres was named Man of the Match by Uefa and with his second, became the third-highest goalscorer in the history of La Roja, with 30 goals. He had earlier equalled the 29 set by Fernando Hierro and is now behind only currently-injured Spain team-mate David Villa (51) and former international colleague Raul (44).
And the 28-year-old, who scored the only goal in the final of Euro 2008 when Spain beat Germany to end their 44-year trophy drought with victory in Austria and Switzerland, has become something of a lucky charm for La Roja, having never ended on the losing side when he nets for his country.
Indeed, he has virtually always been a victor when he scores: Spain have won all of the last 21 games in which Torres has registered. The only occasion in which La Roja failed to win when 'El Nino' was on target was against Italy in Genoa in 2004 - Fernando's first goal for his country.
||TORRES' MOST MEMORABLE GAMES
FOR LA ROJA
Among those 30 goals, there have been two hat-tricks, against San Marino and New Zealand, with the latter coming in the 2009 Confederations Cup in just 17 minutes, making it the fastest triple in the history of La Roja. He has also hit five doubles, including an important brace against Belgium in qualification for the 2006 World Cup, and scored just one in 14 separate occasions.
Italy, San Marino, China, Belgium, Slovakia, Croatia, Ukraine, Tunisia, Liechtenstein, Latvia, Sweden, Germany, Chile, Azerbaijan, New Zealand, Macedonia, Poland, United States, South Korea and now Ireland have all been his victims, with the most important goal of all coming in the final of Euro 2008 against Joachim Low's side.
So Spain fans will now hope there are more similarly important strikes on the way - and that Torres can be their talisman once again in the latter stages of Euro 2012.