Winning runs like the one Spain have achieved over the past two years do not come about by chance. They are a product of talented players, hard work and a winning mentality, but also solid and carefully thought-out tactics which aim to get the most out of each player.
It all begins with the virtual disappearance of the traditional No10, the playmaker who dictated the pace of the game and linked midfield with attack. “It is a role that only a handful of players in the world can perform. The truly great midfielders operate from ‘box to box’. La Selección relies heavily on its attackers, and our solution was to select midfielders who could both defend and create openings. Luckily for us, players like Xabi Alonso, Xavi, David Silva and Andres Iniesta are among the best in the world in this role.”
Of course this style of play is not the only option for teams chock-full of talent like Brazil, another side which have impressed at the Festival of Champions. “The Brazilians don’t have a traditional playmaker either but they get around this by giving more freedom to Kaka and using two holding midfielders to protect the defence. Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo now occupy the role played by Dunga and Mauro Silva in 1994. This formation releases Kaka and the wingers, especially on the right where Brazil have two outstanding players in Dani Alves and Maicon,” says Del Bosque.
On Wednesday, Spain play their semi-final match against USA in Mangaung/Bloemfontein. Although beaten in their first two group games, the Americans did not escape Del Bosque's eagle eye and even on the day before the final Group B games the Spaniard was refusing to write them off. “If there was any surprise, it was that the Italians rolled over so easily against Brazil. As for the Americans, they deserved to qualify,” he commented.
“The Americans have a very talented midfield and attack,” he went on. “They’ve got four match-winners, especially Donovan, who is also one of the few players who can operate as a link man. In addition, Dempsey is extremely dangerous in the air and Charlie Davies, the other forward who we didn’t know about, played very well alongside Altidore when he came on against Egypt. They’re a team with attacking options and can cause us a lot of problems.”
Del Bosque assures us that this cautious approach is neither false modesty nor an attempt to play down the favourite's tag placed upon Spain whenever they take to the pitch. “We’ve got to be very careful with this notion that we’re unbeatable, as all of our opponents now view us differently. One of the most important things is to remain level-headed and be aware that every game is a potential banana skin.”
Since he took the reins as La Roja coach in August 2008, Del Bosque has had 13 consecutive wins. “There was a lot of talk about us having an easy group in the Confederations Cup, but we only beat Iraq by a single goal, and then beat South Africa 2-0 in what was an extremely hard match. In any game of football you have to fight to win and you can always lose, and our semi-final against USA will be no exception. That’s why I don’t want to hear any talk of a Spain-Brazil final.”
But if this is indeed how the final shapes up, rest assured that Del Bosque will have done all his homework on Dunga’s Seleção.