Vicente del Bosque is not the kind of coach to make major changes to his line-ups or spring last-minute surprises. Having stuck to more or less the same side throughout South Africa 2010, give or take the odd injury-enforced switch or tactical variation, the former Real Madrid boss caught everyone off guard in the countdown to Wednesday’s semi-final against Germany. Expected to name Fernando Torres once more, Del Bosque opted instead to draft in Barcelona flier Pedro for his first ever start in the famous red jersey.
It was a switch that not even the 22-year-old speedster was expecting. "I was surprised but very happy when I found out, which was only when the coach announced the team," he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. "I wasn’t nervous, although the stature of our opponents and the importance of the game made it all a bit daunting. When you get out on the pitch, though, you soon forget about all that and start concentrating on the game."
Del Bosque’s hunch paid off, with the untested Pedro proving a thorn in the German rearguard throughout - his skill on the ball and willingness to shoot kept Philipp Lahm and his fellow defenders constantly occupied.
The only flat note of a virtuoso performance came with only seven minutes remaining. With substitute Torres completely unmarked in the Germany box, Pedro opted to try one last dribble at the end of a lightning counter-attack only to lose possession and pass up a gilt-edged chance to seal the game. "That was a pity," he admitted. "We could have scored. Everyone told me I had Torres there alongside me but at the time I thought I was on my own, I had the goal in front of me and I tried to finish the move off myself. It didn’t work out, though, and I missed the chance."
Morale is high and we need to keep on doing what we did in the semi-final: control possession, attack down both flanks and create chances.
Much to his relief, Pedro’s over-elaboration did not prove costly. "We’re so happy to have made the Final, especially after playing such a great game against really tough opponents like Germany," he added.
The final hurdle
Like his fellow members of the Spain dressing room, Pedro is at pains to deflect attention away from his own performance and puts the team’s success down to their collective spirit: "The whole squad has worked really well. We are a team and anyone can come into the side and do a job."
Although Del Bosque’s men have recovered their poise after a shaky start, Pedro is the first to acknowledge that they still need to work on their game ahead of Sunday’s Final against the Netherlands. "We maybe need to sharpen our finishing a little more," he acknowledged. "I had a lot of chances against Germany but couldn’t put any away. Even so, I’m feeling pretty relaxed and I’m happy we’re in the Final."
Pedro is used to big occasions and notable achievements with his club, having gone down in the record books as the first player to score goals in six different competitions in a single season. The youngster has already opened his account for his country as well, netting in the final warm-up match against Poland in early June, and is now just one match away from picking up the biggest prize in the game. "We’ve knocked out teams of the calibre of Portugal and Germany and that gives you a lot of confidence," he explained. "Morale is high and we need to keep on doing what we did in the semi-final: control possession, attack down both flanks and create chances. That’s our philosophy."
Despite Spain’s strengths, the Tenerife-born tyro is aware of the threat the Dutch pose. "They are very strong, as they’ve been showing right the way through the competition. And they’ve got some really skilful players up front, like [Arjen] Robben, [Wesley] Sneijder and [Robin] van Persie. We need to be very careful." Yet, although watchful, the exuberant Pedro has his eyes fixed firmly on the main prize. He said: "To reach the Final is a dream come true for us. All we have to do now is go and win it. That would be absolutely huge."