World and European champions Spain qualified for the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 with a 1-0 victory over Croatia last night.
However, it took until the 88th minute for substitute Jesus Navas to put the champions into the lead.
Prior to the wingers strike there were some very nervous Spanish fans in Gdansk.
As always Spain had the majority of the possession but just couldn’t find a way past a very organised and disciplined Croatia defence. Real Madrid legend Michel Salgado stated recently that the problem with Spain is that they have too many Barcelona players in the team.
What he meant was that at Barca they are used to playing tiki-taka football but at other teams in La Liga they play different styles of football. Spanish head coach Vicente Del Bosque is very much trying to reproduce the Barca style of play.
The problem Del Bosque has is that unlike Barca Spain do not have Lionel Messi. Messi is key to how Barcelona play. Del Bosque has tried to play with no main striker and for me it really hasn’t worked very well.
Barcelona can play that way because they have Messi in their side. However, when Spain played without a striker they looked like they had no focal point of the attack. Chelsea striker Fernando Torres had a good game against the Republic of Ireland but against Croatia his team created very few chances for him.
I also feel sorry for Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente. He has consistently scored goals in La Liga for his club and he scored three goals in five games in qualifying for the tournament. What must he think when his manager is playing the likes of Cesc Fabregas up front instead of him.
Fabregas played that role at times for Barcelona last season but again there was a little Argentinian genius to support him in the role. As good as Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and David Silva are they are not strikers. They are midfielders and need a proper focal point up front.
Although this Spanish team does have lots of qualities I think they have more weaknesses at this tournament than at previous tournaments. The main area of concern for me would be the full-backs. Left-back Jordi Alba is a winger adapted into a full-back by former-Valencia boss Unai Emery.
At times Alba was caught too far up the field as his attacking instincts took over. It wasn’t punished by Ireland but Croatia exposed the youngster on a couple of occasions. He is a quality player but he has to learn more about being a full-back.
I have never been the biggest fan of Alvaro Arbeloa. He may be Real Madrid’s and Spain’s first choice right back but he had a really uncomfortable night against the Croatians. I would say that Arbeloa is probably a weak link in the Spanish team.
They say that the sign of a good team is when they can play badly and still win. Spain didn’t play that badly last night. However they didn’t hit the heights of previous tournament performances. Their performances at the last World Cup wasn’t always enthralling but they managed to grind out the victories they needed to claim the trophy.
Spain are no doubt still a quality team. However, there is hope for their next opponents. Spain are not invincible and Croatia nearly caused a massive shock. Spain could meet France or England in the quarter-finals and no doubt they will cause just as many problems for the Spanish as Bilic’s side did.
Spain still have to be regarded as one of the favourites. They are however in the harder half of the draw. I think they would much rather be facing Greece or the Czech Republic than France or England.
If Spain win the European Championship then it will be an unprecedented third international trophy in a row. This would be an amazing feat and probably never repeated.
I have a feeling that other sides will fancy their chances of beating Spain after watching the Croatia match though. Spain could be in for a rude awakening in the next few weeks. However, they are world and European champions for a reason and it won’t be easy for them.
The next few weeks could determine the balance of power in European football for the next four years and if Spain want to stay on top they have to move up a gear. If not then Germany could very well knock them off their perch on July 1st.
Will Spain still win the European Championships?