x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Confederations Cup: A striking question still remains for Spain

Strikers Fernando Torres and Roberto Soldado are among several forwards vying for a starting spot but Spain may just return to their 'false nine' at the Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Spain’s Roberto Soldado scored during a 2-0 win over Ireland on Tuesday and is hoping for a starting spot in the Confederations Cup. Don Emmert / AFP
Spain’s Roberto Soldado scored during a 2-0 win over Ireland on Tuesday and is hoping for a starting spot in the Confederations Cup. Don Emmert / AFP

It seems crazy for a team that is currently world and European champions, but Spain's lack of a first-choice striker remains a conundrum.

Spain's Euro 2012 triumph in Poland and Ukraine was achieved with Cesc Fabregas playing an auxiliary role as the attacker furthest up the field, but he remains much more of a natural midfielder, despite his re-incarnation as a "false nine" at international level.

For the Confederations Cup, manager Vicente del Bosque has four clear options, whether he decides to go with a "false nine" or indeed a more traditional centre-forward.

Alongside Fabregas, he has selected the experience of David Villa and Fernando Torres, while Roberto Soldado's late-season form saw him edge aside Alvaro Negredo, who had been selected ahead of the Valencia man for the World Cup qualifying double-header back in March.

Del Bosque's loyalty to Torres and Villa is understandable, as they have tended to be been the focal point of Spain's success over the last five years.

Villa was the competition's top-scorer at both the European Championships in 2008 and World Cup in 2010, while in Villa's absence through injury, Torres scored the winner in the Euro 2008 final and remarkably finished joint top-scorer in last year's Euros, despite only starting twice and scoring three times.

However, neither have enjoyed the best of fortunes at the club level over the past couple of years.

Villa has struggled to regain his place in the Barcelona side after breaking his tibia in December 2011, and with Neymar joining the Spanish champions, he seems almost certain to be on his way out of the Catalan capital in the coming months.

Meanwhile, although Torres has regained some semblance of form as his 22 goals helped Chelsea win the Europa League, those goals came from 64 appearances and only eight came in the Premier League.

Without doubt, the man most in form is Soldado. The Valencia captain scored 30 goals across all competitions this season and 10 in the last eight games of the campaign as he tried to single-handedly drag them back into the Champions League.

He scored in the 2-0 friendly win over the Republic of Ireland in New York on Tuesday. However, del Bosque has been reticent to use Soldado in the past.

Soldado, 28, was left out of the Euro 2012 squad, despite scoring three times against Venezuela in a warm-up friendly, and has not featured in any of Spain's World Cup qualifiers since scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Georgia to begin their campaign.

Soldado's problem seems to be that del Bosque does not believe he has the all-around game to combine with Spain's multitude of creative midfielders.

"We can play with a genuine number nine or a different kind of player, but we need players who can contribute to the team play and be effective throughout the match and not only to score a goal," said del Bosquue, 62, last week.

That would suggest that Fabregas remains the favourite to start among the frontline, however, with opponents now more than happy to gift Spain possession, confident there will be little threat in behind, that is likely to prove problematic against better opposition.

Eventually, it seems del Bosque will have to turn to a real number nine, but his likelihood to choose loyalty in Villa and Torres over the form of Soldado is another ray of light for those hoping to knock Spain off their perch.

However, del Bosque insisted their places in the side were not guaranteed.

"The number nine works when the team works. I am not going to say who is going to start," he said after the Ireland match.

Spain at a glance

Fifa world ranking 1

Qualified as world champions

Best Confederations Cup result 3rd place, 2009

Other major honours World champions: 2010; European champions: 1964, 2008, 2012; European runners-up: 1984

Coach Vicente del Bosque

Prospects Twelve of the squad heading for Brazil were involved in the 2008 and 2012 European championship successes and the 2010 World Cup and there is a real determination to win the only major honour not in the nation’s trophy cabinet. Coach Vicente del Bosque said that as Spain, along with Brazil, are regarded as the favourites, he wants to face the South Americans in the final in Rio on June 30. He has recalled goalkeeper Iker Casillas and striker Fernando Torres to his squad and Spain should get through a Group B section that also includes Uruguay, Nigeria and Tahiti.


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