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Spain debates the Torres dilemma

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Phil Minshull | 15:05 UK time, Sunday, 27 June 2010

Spaniards, and particularly the Spanish media, are very successful at turning the most marginal victory into a huge triumph.

However, after Spain's meandering passage into the knockout stages, most people have resisted blowing the events of the last week out of proportion and a sense of relief and a period of stocktaking has descended over the country in the aftermath of their 2-1 victory over Chile.

The win secured Spain's place the last 16 and meant they also avoided Brazil by finishing as top of their group but no one in Spain, at least not anyone sober or reasonably sensible, is talking too loudly any more about winning the World Cup.

torres595.jpg

Fernando Torres failed to score in Spain's qualifying campaign and is struggling for form Photograph: Reuters

The old mantra of 'one game at a time' which, to be fair, has been repeated regularly by Spain's coach Vicente Del Bosque since the draw was made last December, has become the phrase of the day both in South Africa and at home.

Having started at the favourites, or joint favourites with Brazil, and having left for South Africa at the start of the month with a tide of optimism behind them last month, people are now suffering a bit of a reality check.

Spaniards are now saying to themselves, in the media, in the bars or just in their own living rooms, "There are some other good teams in this tournament and maybe we are not quite as good as we thought we were."

Nevertheless, they now face neighbouring Portugal on Tuesday - with many pundits here are expecting bookings a plenty as the Spanish defenders, none of whom play for Real Madrid, subtly settle a few old scores with Cristiano Ronaldo.

If they get past Portugal, and you would have to say that Spain are the favourites after the defensive displays by Carlos Queiroz's side against Brazil and Ivory Coast, then they will play either Paraguay or Japan in the quarter-finals. In theory, whoever they face, that should be a very winnable contest for Spain.

However, the big question that emerged after the restrained euphoria of Friday night had died away, is how do Spain break down Portugal's resilient defence which has yet to concede a goal.

Eduardo has done an excellent, if understated, job in goal for former Manchester United assistant and Real Madrid coach Queiroz and his job has been made much easier by the form of Bruno Alves and Ricardo Carvalho, possibly the best central defensive pairing seen so far.

How will the one classic dilemma of an unstoppable object, in the shape of Spain's magnificent strikers, meeting an immovable object be resolved?

There is however a huge debate about whether Fernando Torres should be in the starting line up against Portugal. In similar fashion to England's Wayne Rooney, the feared forward arrived in South Africa far from fully match fit, and it has shown.

"He was quite simply bad," reflected one commentator in the Spanish sports daily As on Saturday.

Various Spanish media marked him as the worst Spanish player on the pitch, his loss of touch in marked contrast to David Villa against Chile and Honduras.

Nevertheless, Del Bosque looks as though he will keep faith with him, probably hoping that he will act as a talisman or that those skills in front of the goal that have been woefully absent will suddenly reappear.

"Even though he's not scored, he's a very important player for us because he makes the opposition defences sweat," said Del Bosque on Saturday, suggesting that it is a moot point about whether he should be dropped.

Rumours abound that the various players have been privately muttering that Del Bosque should leave out Torres and bring in Barcelona's Pedro or Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente.

However, the image that Del Bosque has been giving in Spain is that, like the Danish coach Morten Olsen who has a nice little sideline in advertising hearing appliances - if you've ever gone through Copenhagen airport as I did last week, you'll know what I mean - he is turning a deaf ear to the mildly mutinous words.

"He (Torres) is improving and although he suffered a few twinges in this game he's not feeling any after-effects with his knee injury," Del Bosque told Spanish journalists after beating Chile.

Not surprisingly, his rather half-hearted defence of Torres' poor form was seized upon by the media and public alike highlighting the possibility that Torres will be on the bench on Tuesday.

Probably not helping either has been the fact that the former coach Luis Aragones, who lead Spain to triumph at the European Championships two years ago, has chosen this moment to start sniping from the sidelines, perhaps trying to make sure that his place in Spanish football fans' affections is not immediately trumped by Del Bosque.

"Spain won the match (against Chile) with a great deal of difficultly, they looked nervous in the first half. They need to wake up, move faster and demonstrate movement (off the ball)," commented Aragones.

Del Bosque has never shown himself to be swayed by public opinion but, from a personal perspective, for once the critics might be right and perhaps he should leave out Torres.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Please keep sending other questions on European football that are not World Cup-related to europeanfootball@hotmail.co.uk.

Once the World Cup is over, I'll get back to covering issues and answering questions related especially to club football. I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from. Thanks.

Here's a World Cup-related question that is possibly better dealt with from Europe than South Africa:

Q) I just wanted to ask you what you thought about the possible selection of Cesare Prandelli as the next coach for the Italian national side?
Jonathan Rossotto, Shanghai

A) This is very topical and it was confirmed on Friday that Prandelli will take over the reins of Italy from July 1. It was no surprise, as Prandelli had already been pencilled in to take over from Marcello Lippi but few were expecting the announcement to be made so suddenly while the team had barely time to get packed and on the plane home. Clearly, the Italian federation felt that they had to move quickly after the debacle in South Africa.

"We have the necessity to re-start obviously there is sadness and bitterness, but we must re-start," said the Italian federation president Giancarlo Abete.

The appointment of the popular former Fiorentina coach has already got the thumbs up from the players and the press.

"He is the only one capable of taking over from [Marcello] Lippi and leading Italy towards a rebirth," said Fabio Quagliarella on Saturday. The media in Italy believe that he will usher several more players towards international retirement alongside their 2006 World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannovaro as well as build bridges with players who Lippi excluded, such as Antonio Cassano.

However, personally, I'm a little bit more sceptical about how successful he will be. His club coaching career has been a good one in terms of over-achieving with modest clubs and he's twice been named the winner of the Panchina d'Oro (Golden Bench) award as the best Italian club coach in recent years but it's a much more different proposition dealing with all the egos and political problems that come with being the Italian national coach.

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