| Cesc Fabregas celebrates after scoring Spain’s equaliser against Italy in the Euro 2012 match in Gdansk, on Sunday. (AP) |
Gdansk: Fernando Torres’ enduring confidence crisis ensured Spain had to settle for a point against Italy, here on Sunday.
Torres should have helped the holders overturn an earlier deficit with what would have been an undeserved victory, but the Chelsea striker – a late substitute – squandered two easy chances in the closing stages of another cracking Euro 2012 group opener.
Cesc Fabregas had earlier equalised three minutes after substitute Antonio di Natale gave Italy a well-earned lead.
Italy’s shirts may once more be stained by match-fixing allegations in their domestic league, but they proved, as in the World Cup in 2006, there is no country better at finding redemption. They were assisted by the holders’ toothless starting formation. Spain’s confidence in their perpetual possession prompted coach Vicente del Bosque to initially discard the notion of a striker.
Despite David Villa’s absence from injury, the claims of Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente were ignored. Instead, Fabregas was pushed into an advanced role.
For Torres, whose smile returned after a three-year absence during Chelsea’s Champions League celebrations, it was the latest in a serious of benchwarming exercises that could bring his frown back.
He could have made amends when he appeared as a substitute on 74 minutes, immediately sent clear for a one-on-one with Gianluigi Buffon, but his hesitation underlined his unshakeable lack of confidence. He also chipped over with an empty net as a target six minutes later.
Until his introduction, the absence of a number nine exposed a familiar flaw. Without a striker, Spain can appear like a world champion boxer limited solely to jabbing.
There are enough teams with the stamina to expose the timidity of such blows. Italy, well equipped in the art of resilience, did more than just resist.
Iker Casillas began the busier goalkeeper. He was first called into action on 13 minutes, pushing aside Andrea Pirlo’s 13th free-kick. Antonio Cassano, a menace throughout, then struck across Casillas’ goal as the Italians’ shrugged off any notions of inferiority. The Real Madrid goalkeeper was fortunate when an unconvincing stop, again from a Cassano drive, rebounded to safety. Marchisio’s volley on 35 minutes confirmed the Italians’ growing supremacy, and although there was a brief Spanish spark on the stroke of half-time when Iniesta chipped over, Italy still had the last word before the interval. Cassano’s cross found Thiago Motta, who forced Casillas into his most acrobatic stop of all.
Buffon was called upon twice early in the second half, denying Fabregas and Iniesta, but the danger signs were evident before Italy struck.
Mario Balotelli, booked for an innocuous challenge on Jordi Alba, wasted a perfect chance on 54 minutes, waiting too long to strike having robbed Sergio Ramos.
The defender was able to make amends with a saving tackle. Balotelli was subbed, left to stew on his missed opportunity while his replacement, Di Natale, made an instant impact.
Pirlo’s break from midfield led to a cleverly weighted pass which the Udinese striker calmly stroked beyond the advancing Casillas. Spain’s response was instant as David Silva sent Fabregas clear to somewhat undeservedly equalise.
Torres could have won it as Spain ended strongest, but he endured a miserable cameo, wasting two easy chances and also collecting a booking.
It is often said, too many cooks can spoil the broth. And something similar happened to Spain on Sunday as Del Bosque's false-nine experiment failed to completely convince.