Vicente del Bosque opted for a much scrutinized. midfield heavy line-up with no pure, recognizable strikers in Spain's first group match against Italy. Fit strikers Fernando Llorente, Fernando Torres and Alvaro Negredo were left on the bench in favor of a front line consisting of Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Andres Iniesta. It was a very intriguing move by del Bosque that produced mixed results as Fabregas and Silva combined to produce Spain's only goal at the end of a beautiful, latticework move--but the attack also sputtered and meandered for long stretches of the match as La Roja seemed to need a focal point like Llorente to add variety and a touch of directness to their play. Italy appeared the better side for much of the match and Iker Casillas had to make a few difficult, crucial saves to keep the match within reach, none bigger than an amazing stop on a point blank shot from Thiago Motta off of a sublime ball from Antonio Cassano. Casillas not only played big in goal, he provided the caliber of leadership and stability that you need and would expect from a captain of his stature.
Alvaro Arbeloa had an extremely interesting role in this match, as the right back continued his roaming, daredevil runs into the offensive zone. Spain were surprisingly narrow for much of the match and Andrea Pirlo sought to exploit this narrowness with cutting, precise diagonal balls to Cassano and Mario Balotelli, but many of these seemed to go to the left side of the pitch away from Arbeloa (Gerard Pique was victimized on Antonio Di Natale's goal), who despite his forward runs remained positionally sound. Steve McManaman made an interesting observation regarding the narrowness of Spain's formation, saying it looked as if the forward players were waiting for Arbeloa and Jordi Alba to burst forward and add width to Spain's attack, a seemingly perilous strategy when Italy was banking on the diagonals to counterattack. del Bosque remedied this late in the match (perhaps a little too late) when he introduced Jesus Navas into the match and the winger made an immediate impact, providing width without sacrificing cover. All in all, Arbeloa was an interesting piece in the tactical battle between the two managers.
Sergio Ramos had a relatively quiet game. As I noted, the Italians were generally attacking down the flanks and Ramos was playing in the center of the defense with most of the action swirling around either side of him. The defensive stalwart was perhaps most noticed on the day when he flubbed a clearance which provided Balotelli a sterling chance on goal that, luckily for him, the mercurial striker made a baffling mess of.
In American football, there is a cliche that if you don't hear the announcers mention the name of the offensive lineman guarding the quarterback that means they are doing their job properly. I sometimes think this holds true of a metronomic midfielder like Xabi Alonso, but in yesterday's match...I'm not so sure. Xabi was not very noticeable and didn't influence the match much at all. I don't think he was poor, but I certainly expect more from a player with his quality and class.
Overall I think this was a fascinating match with interesting psychology and I'm very excited to see both Spain and Italy play again.