Unbreakable Spain lay down gauntlet to Euro 2012 final four

It may not have been spectacular but Vicente del Bosque's side deservedly defeated France and are building success on strong foundations, just as they did at the World Cup in 2010
 Ben Hayward
 Spain Expert Follow on


There was, said France coach Laurent Blanc after his side's Euro 2012 quarter-final defeat to Spain on Saturday, "something lacking".

Spain fans may well agree. For all their positivity and pretty possession play, La Roja lack something, too: goals. Their domination against Les Bleus was almost total, their control complete. But none of that was reflected by the scoreline - and it wasn't the first time.

The European and world champions seem to be playing - and winning - within themselves at Euro 2012, failing to truly convert their superiority into goals. That said, since the 59th minute of their opening encounter against Italy, Vicente del Bosque's side have not conceded, either. And perhaps that's all part of the plan: sobriety in attack; solidity at the back.

  EURO 2008
vs. Italy
vs. Russia
vs. Germany
0-0 (p)
  WORLD CUP 2010
vs. Portugal
vs. Paraguay
vs. Germany
vs. Netherlands

“Defensively we worked really well,” Gerard Pique said after the game on Saturday. “And we managed to maintain the possession further forward.

“It’s important because that way, we only need to score one goal to win our games.”

And a look back to the World Cup proves Pique right. After the group stage, Spain went four matches without conceding a single goal and only needed one per match to lift football's most prestigious prize. It may have seemed like the principle of least effort - but it was anything but.

On Saturday, Spain scored twice, with Xabi Alonso the unlikely hero on his 100th appearance as he netted a first-half header and added another from the penalty spot in injury time. Nobody could say the scoreline flattered the champions, yet nor was it a particularly memorable display from Del Bosque's men.

Xavi explained afterwards: “The defensive work is so important because you can’t always play well, but if we are able to be solid, that allows us to move forward even without performing that well.”

Alonso, meanwhile, had proved a point. His tandem with Barcelona's Sergio Busquets has come in for much criticism over the last week. But it works. Del Bosque's double pivot sees the two deep-lying midfielders offer important protection for the back four. "It's not an unbreakable association," the coach claimed this week. "But it has worked well for us."

So why change it? Spain could include a more attack-minded or mobile midfielder instead of either Alonso or Busquets and the team would likely benefit when they have the ball - which is most of the time.

However, it would also leave them exposed to the counterattack or a sucker punch when they are not in possession. Del Bosque is playing a percentage game - and he is winning. It doesn't really matter how.

In five knockout games in major competitions, Del Bosque's Spain side have now scored just six goals but, crucially, none have been conceded. So if La Roja win their next two matches by a single goal, their fans are unlikely to care. And neither will history: they will be remembered as the only team in international football to win a treble: a European Championship, a World Cup, and another continental crown in succession.

They haven't done it yet of course, but while they are somewhat short of spectacular, they have thrown down the gauntlet for the final four. Can they be beaten? Time will tell, but it will be anything but easy - and Del Bosque's record in major knockout games is testament to that. 

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