Spain v Croatia, June 18, 7.45pm
June 18 ~ Spain's first week at Euro 2012 might seem to have to gone smoothly, with La Roja still on track to both win the tournament and make history, but you'd never guess that from reading the Madrid media. The opening 1-1 draw with Italy looked a good performance against a surprisingly decent Azzurri side, but it was greeted with dismay by pundits who had expected an easy Spanish victory. A consensus soon formed that coach Vicente Del Bosque had erred in leaving out his three traditional centre-forwards and playing Cesc Fábregas as a false 9.
AS editor Alberto Relaño criticised the coach for knowing neither his best 11 nor his preferred team shape. Former Spain coach and Euro 2008 winner Luís Aragones was even less impressed: "Obviously I respect the coach's decision," he wrote in Marca. "But I would have played a centre-forward." Real Madrid boss José Mourinho, covering the game for Al-Jazeera, sensed a chance to knock a suspiciously Barcelona-style system: "The team was impotent without a striker," he reckoned.
That set off a debate that dominated the build-up to Thursday's clash with Ireland. Some experts felt Fábregas, who had scored the Spanish goal, deserved to keep his place. Others thought Fernando Torres or Fernando Llorente needed to come in. Each day players had to repeat that they thought they had played well against Italy and were happy with their coach. Del Bosque denied on TV that he was angry about the criticism, but looked more flappable than usual.
Torres started Thursday's game against Ireland and scored after just four minutes. With Ireland a sorry shambles, Spain eased to a 4-0 win and the mood changed immediately. "It was glorious," wrote Relaño in Friday's AS. "Torres' goal cleared away the debates. All that remained was to enjoy ourselves."
Now Del Bosque was a flexible tactician, who had prepared Spain to play different systems to suit the requirements of each game. Over the weekend both Marca and AS devoted pages to the team's record-breaking passing statistics. They dubbed Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and David Silva the "holy trinity" of tiki-taka and mused about Spain being the best team ever. There was a lot of media speculation around a 2-2 scoreline against Croatia tonight, which would eliminate Italy, but no thoughts of a defeat that could send the Spanish home.
Del Bosque looked exasperated again on Sunday, saying he was now worried so much euphoria would affect his players' focus. It is easy to sympathise with the veteran coach, who had to put up with similar moodswings during the World Cup in 2010. There will be more swings and roundabouts to navigate before Euro 2012 ends. Dermot Corrigan