With one-time golden boy Fernando Torres benched it was left to a less-heralded Spanish striker, Roberto Soldado, to show that the world champions still know where the net is.
It was his goal that cemented a 2-1 Confederations Cup win over Uruguay on Sunday. Spain’s possession-based “tiki-taka” style is designed to frustrate the best of opponents: you can’t score if you don’t have the ball.
So with 71 percent of the possession — a staggering 92 percent in the opening stages — the world and European champions should have won by a country mile.
Yet Luis Suarez’s late free kick reduced the margin to a meagre 2-1. And that prompted Soldado to admit that Spain, for all the intricate passing patterns they weave, do need to concentrate more on going for the jugular — or in future risk possibly drawing matches they ought to win.
That strategy would be a risky business in the knockout stages. The lottery of penalties would then come into play, potentially undermining their chances of making it four tournament wins on the trot after the 2010 World Cup and the past two editions of the European Championships.
“They were difficult opponents — they were always keeping the pressure on and trying to close us down,” said Valencia forward Soldado. His goal on 32 minutes ultimately clinched the win after Diego Lugano had deflected Pedro’s early effort for the Spanish opener.
At that stage, the floodgates looked certain to open, but despite their wonderful approach play the Spanish just could not hit the target thereafter. Soldado acknowledges that superiority has to be rubbed in in terms of goals — not possession.
“We have to recognise this. and it is a shame that we didn’t manage to score more goals and put the match to bed. We certainly had the chances,” he said.
* Spain 2-1 Uruguay
* Italy 2-1 Mexico