DONETSK, Ukraine – Eight goals in four games – albeit half of those against Ireland – and Spain are moving on towards their date with destiny as they target an unprecedented third straight major title.
Spain have had to deal with a certain amount of criticism as against Italy and Croatia they found it hard to serve up caviar football, particularly with coach Vicente Del Bosque’s predilection for economising on the strikers.
Yet the Furia Roja are now at the business end of the tournament and have a reputation to live up to as the pass masters of the modern game.
The Spanish share that philosophy with Barcelona, though of course the key difference in personnel is the absence in Del Bosque’s side of Argentina’s Leo Messi.
Del Bosque has, like Barca, tried the false number nine route with Cesc Fabregas – but the Barcelona definition of that role is somewhat different given that Messi is the man with the attacking licence to roam.
To be fair to Fabregas he has scored twice here – but at Barca he naturally can leave Messi in the free role. The Catalans have the luxury of being able to call on both men to pull the strings.
Del Bosque says that, if Spain were to look for a Messi figure, then it would not even be Fabregas – who in any case rejects the comparison.
“David Silva is the Spanish Messi,” Del Bosque said recently – although he has not called upon the Manchester City man to assume any kind of similar role, rather moving him further right than where he performs for his club.
Silva assumed the false nine responsibilities and scored twice in a qualifier against Scotland last October.
At Barcelona, meanwhile, coach Pep Guardiola used Fabregas with success for a time at the start of last season but then moved him back again as Messi generally began to run riot on the way to 50 league goals – a club record.
Del Bosque sees Fabregas as a point man for the rest of his stellar midfield, whether the point be slightly further forward or slightly further back whereas he will choose Torres when it coms to using space or playing on the counter.
Fabregas himself said after the quarter-final win over France that he should not be compared with Messi.
“I have never compared myself with Messi – that would be silly. I play where the boss puts me and that is that.
“I also think we shouldn’t really be talking about Messi as he isn’t here first of all and in any case is a very different player to me.
“We are talking about the best player in the history of football,” said Fabregas of his clubmate.
He added: “I hope nobody expects me to beat five players and score.”
According to teammate Xabi Alonso, himself a midfielder of the deeper-lying variety yet who also assumes goalscoring responsibilities – noting his brace against the French – the debate is not really a topic in the camp.
“There has never been an internal debate. We are all very confident and sure as to how we should play. that’s how we have come so far and we shall continue in that vein,” said the Real Madrid star.