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Morata and Nolito, in place of Torres and Villa


It has taken just two games at Euro 2016 for Spain to be installed as the new favourites for the title by the bookmakers. They were convincing against the Czech Republic, but they conquered the running against Turkey. In Nice Spain united their school of possession-based control -- that which we have come to call tiki-taka (an expression we owe to the departed Andrés Montes) -- with an inclination to shoot, something the side has often lacked. Diego Maradona once called Spain “champions of football without goals.” And it was not just a jibe from the extravagant Argentinean genius: it represented a collective vision, that of a magnificent side without a killer instinct.

This reticence was overcome against Turkey, where La Roja displayed a different intention. This was not merely a case of “keep the ball and move it about,” That tag of being a side without attacking intent has followed Spain around during this period of success, and places to one side the disaster in Brazil, which was due to other matters. That wasn’t a side without goal threats; it was a team in poor health. Some ageing players, others not properly recovered from injuries. The resulting mix was a convalescent side, racked with self-doubt about their ability and liable to fold in the face of any setback. And that’s what happened.

But that was then, and this is now. Some of the same players remain, but they are now in rude health. IT’s impressive to see the form of Piqué, Ramos, Busquets, the fullbacks… Silva, in support, and Iniesta. What can I say about him? With him playing behind the new strike partnership it seems, finally, that the nostalgia of Torres and Villa has been erased, that duo who had so much to do with those not so distant triumphs. Morata and Nolito convince me. They have pace, understanding, nerve, persistence, the eye for goal… The team has recovered, Iniesta is in his full brilliance and now we have a front line again. That’s why the bookies have changed the chalkboard.


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