Friday 20 April 2018

Euro 2012: Busquets on the defensive as ‘phantom forward’ tactic blamed for sluggish start

David Kelly

David Kelly

For Neustift in Austria 2008 and Potchesfroom in South Africa. 2010, read Gniewino in 2012.

The first two were the bases which launched Spain's belated ascension to European and World summits. Now a tiny village some 80km north of Gdansk aims to provide Vincente del Bosque's team with a similarly tranquil HQ from which to target the retention of their European crown.

In geographical terms, they are stuck somewhere halfway up Ben Bulben -- Ireland, whose team hotel is less than a hundred yards from all-night boozing dens, may as well be plonked in the middle of Courtown.

Who is it that keeps spouting on about the little details?

Those of us travelling from Gdansk endured a seven-hour round trip involving cars, trams, trains and buses -- we half-expected the collection of burly security guards to force us to walk the last half-mile in our bare feet.

One unwitting hack strolled up to the team hotel in search of a comfort break and was assailed with all the defensive rigour of someone preventing an assassination attempt.

The Irish team may like to be cosseted among the best supporters in the world; the best team in the world, however, do things rather differently.

For sure, they will mingle with the fans if success comes three way -- but only then. Spain have chosen well. The first syllable of Gniewino means furia in Spanish, or fury. Spain's nickname is La Furia Roja -- 'The Red Fury'.

Spain were mobbed when they first arrived here. Astonishingly, half the population turned out -- but then there are only 1,100 recorded citizens in the town. Yesterday most of them appeared to be asleep.

A few Spanish fans turned up early for last night's training session to catch a glimpse of their heroes, as all but the media-requested Jesus Navas and Sergio Busquets remained in the Hotel Mistral.

The facilities are outstanding; the media centre is world class. The hotel has a swimming pool and physiotherapy and hydrotherapy facilities.

The sports facilities include the municipal stadium, Stadion Gminny which has a capacity for 1,000 spectators and two training grounds -- one with natural turf and another with artificial turf.

Everything is at their disposal, but then everything is needed. The man from the Spanish Federation thought he was doing a good deed when, having heard Andres Iniesta owned a Scalextric system, installed one in the team room.

"We prefer to play cards," smiled Gerard Pique this week. "Scalextric is too easy. When you play cards you have to use your brain."

Most Spanish brains this week have been exercised by the latest trend to grip football in these championships, the 'phantom' centre-forward embraced so enthusiastically by Del Bosque in the opening 1-1 draw with Italy.

Many of his compatriots are bemused by the formation, none more so than his predecessor Luis Aragones, and the opening game has provoked a degree of soul-searching not witnessed since their shock reverse to Switzerland at the start of the last World Cup.

We all know what happened then.

"Italy are also world champions," reasoned Busquets. "True, we lost to Switzerland before, but this time we weren't just playing any team.

"Italy are a fantastic team. It was not a bad match. Spain had chances, but when you don't win a match there will always be debate and criticisms."

As for the system, Busquets sided with his manager's trusted record.

All of the players understand decisions taken by national coach," he said.

"They are taken for the benefit of team as a whole. Too many in midfield? The game is based on fast passing in midfield. The aim is to win and decisions are taken on that basis.

Entitled

"Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but the players go out there and do their best to win."

Spain's passing may be short, but their scope is wide.

"Our desire is to win this championships," added Busquets. "It won't be easy. There is some strong opposition, but the pressure we are under is normal. We are used to high expectations. It is important to focus and work hard. And to know that we have good players."

As the senior man, Barcelona midfielder Busquets dominates the talking, but Sevilla's Navas comes up trumps with the euphemism of the day to describe the task presented by Ireland. "They will deploy to the rear," he opines.

The sides differ in so many ways, but not when Busquets concludes with a stirring rejoinder.

"The performance doesn't matter, once there is the result."

In one respect, at least, Ireland and Spain are alike.

Irish Independent

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