Any lingering doubts about Vicente del Bosque’s legitimacy as Spain coach were dispelled by the 1-0 defeat of Germany. Whatever happens against the Dutch on Sunday, and there are few people this side of the Pyrenees who believe it will be anything other than a Spanish victory, the side that Luis built now unquestionably belongs to the former Real Madrid gaffer, whose hangdog exterior conceals the shrewdest of footballing brains and a big pair of steel cojones.
Despite pressure from an opinionated press seemingly intent on debating every issue, from the identity of the third keeper to his continuing faith in the doble pivote formed by Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, Del Bosque put his balls on the block again on Wednesday, dropping Fernando Torres for the relatively untried Pedro.
It was a switch that took everyone by surprise, not least the experts, the Barcelona youngster himself and, most importantly, the Germans. It worked a treat as well.
Philipp Lahm seems to have spent most of the World Cup parked on the right-hand corner of opposing penalty boxes, but with Pedro and Andres Iniesta operating artfully down the flanks, Germany’s would-be full-time skipper was kept on defensive detail for most of the night. With the previously questioned Busquets also putting in a superb shift, even popping out of his midfield comfort zone to become Spain’s first line of defence on occasion, Del Bosque would have been entitled to kick off his shoes afterwards and light up a Cuban fat one.
There’s not much chance of him taking his hand off the tiller yet, though, even if he now has the nation’s media eating out of his hand and the cranky Aragonés finally on message after a string of doom-laden prophesies, most of them delivered for a nice fee on Al Jazeera and all of them rebutted with good grace by the moustachioed maestro.
His hangdog exterior conceals the shrewdest of footballing brains and a big pair of steel cojones.
Whether Pedro will get a chance to repeat his virtuoso performance against the Dutch is anyone’s guess. Del Bosque has shown that media campaigns have no impact on his selection decisions, although Wednesday’s sidelining of the ring-rusty Torres suggests his chances of starting the Final are slim. There could yet be a place for Cesc Fabregas, who has organised effectively in his appearances from the bench so far and was in the frame for a place against the Germans until sustaining a nasty whack on his right leg in training.
Yet whatever the make-up of Sunday’s side, the dissection of Germany has restored national confidence, buffeted by the horror show against the Swiss, to pre-tournament levels. Having got virtually every call right during the competition so far, from Fernando Llorente’s match-turning introduction against Portugal to his Pedro ploy, the endearingly modest Del Bosque has finally earned himself some breathing space. Given the incessant chatter of the Spanish football media, that is almost as big an achievement as steering his team through to the Final.
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