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Spain have plenty in reserve
If the Spanish Football Federation had had their wish, Spain would be entering EURO 2004 with home advantage. The Spanish were favourites to win the right to host the event before neighbours Portugal got the nod in October 1999.

Thursday, 29 April 2004

After losing that particular contest, they then suffered an uncharacteristic stumble in qualifying for this summer's tournament, finishing second in their section behind Greece and progressing via victory against Norway in the play-offs. 

Qualifying the hard way, however, appears to have done Iñaki Sáez's side no harm. After all, Spain usually cruise through qualifying but have not been beyond the last eight in a major tournament for 20 years. Wednesday night's performance against Italy in Genoa, though, augured well for their prospects of a strong showing when they cross the border into Portugal in June. 

The 1-1 draw was a marked improvement on their performances in beating Peru and Denmark earlier this year and left Sáez satisfied. "We played really well, controlling the game and keeping possession," said the Basque coach, who added that it was "really good to know we have many options". 

Although they will have been disappointed when Fernando Torres's 53rd-minute goal was cancelled out by Christian Vieri within three minutes, Spain certainly played the more fluent football, a fact recognised by Gazzetta dello Sport which declared: "Spain played as a team working on a clear project, Italy were just a bunch of players." 

There were plenty of positives for Sáez. Real Betis's Juanito Gutiérrez impressed in central defence in the absence of Carlos Marchena, while Raúl Bravo looked comfortable in place of the Carles Puyol on the left. 

On the wings Joseba Etxeberria and Vicente Rodríguez provided a credible threat - as did Joaquín Sánchez after replacing Etxeberria for the second half - while Xabi Alonso looked a more than able deputy for Rubén Baraja in the centre of the pitch, recovering possession and distributing the ball well. 

His partner in midfield, David Albelda, felt that "Spain were better from the first minute to the last" and they certainly had the chances to have scored more than the one goal they did get. Certainly, Iván Helguera was unlucky to have been ruled offside when he beat Gianluigi Buffon in the first half. 

The goal Torres did score was his first in international football on his fifth appearance and afterwards the Atlético Madrid striker thanked his fellow substitute Juan Carlos Valerón for "a great assist". This pair replaced Raúl González and Fernando Morientes at the break so Sáez certainly has handsome options in attack. 

Raúl may have dipped below his sky-high standards on occasions this season but Morientes and Valerón have shone in the Champions League while Torres has scored 16 goals in 28 league games for Atlético. Italy defender Fabio Cannavaro was impressed by what he saw and reserved special praise for Torres. "Spain played a good match and they gave us many problems especially in the second half," he said. "I was particularly impressed with Fernando Torres's performance". 

It was not all good - goalkeeper Iker Casillas has looked more assured and he was caught out of position for Vieri's goal, while right-back Manuel Pablo gave a nervous performance on his first appearance since 2001. Still, there was enough evidence to support Saez's assertion that "we have so many good players. I have substitutes of a very high standard for Portugal".
- Simon Hart & Andy Hall 




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