Sweden 1 Spain 2: Sleepless nights fuel Aragones' quandary

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Spain's coach Luis Aragones confesses to not sleeping well at the best of times but his country's early qualification for the quarter-finals has left him with an insomnia-inducing dilemma. Logic, and custom, dictates that players are rested in the final group game if it is a "dead rubber" but then logic is not always right. Two years ago at the World Cup, Spain were in a similar position, having played with similar panache, and Aragones played a whole new starting XI.

A lacklustre performance in a dismal 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia halted momentum and they were beaten in the last 16 by France. Aragones is talking about making changes again against Greece, but is unlikely to field a complete new team, although several players – Xavi, David Silva and, most worryingly of all, Carles Puyol – are carrying injuries.

"I was going to say that after a couple of more days with my head resting on my pillow that I might change my idea about starting a completely fresh team against Greece. But I'm going to have to stop blaming the pillow because I don't actually spend much time with my head on it," Aragones said yesterday. "Not because of anything about the competition which is bothering me, just because I generally get very little sleep."

Likely to be omitted, however, are the striking pair of Fernando Torres and David Villa who did so much on Saturday – scoring a goal apiece – to defeat a Swedish side who, for their doggedness and courage, and the skill of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who also scored, probably deserved a draw rather than to lose in the third minute of added time at the end of the second half.

Afterwards, Torres, who will be the subject of a bid from Chelsea in the coming weeks, which could rise as high as £60m, to test Liverpool's resolve, was serving a warning while also admitting that Spain do fancy their chances of winning this competition.

"We can win it," Torres said. "But a lot of teams can win it. It is best for us to accept the fact and prepare for it now – Sweden was an early warning for what awaits us. Teams will try to prevent us imposing our style. So what I thought was vital was that we showed we have tactical variety. The two goals were completely different and so were our tactical approaches to playing Russia and Sweden."

Spain will face Romania, France or Italy in the quarter-finals who are all – especially the Romanians – capable of smothering their style, although the "fantastic understanding", as Torres put it, between him and Villa could give them the edge. It did against the Swedes who now must gain at least a draw against Russia on Wednesday to progress, knowing that Ibrahimovic's knee is a cause of concern and that the Russians will welcome back their own talisman Andrei Arshavin who is finally free of suspension. Ibrahimovic is being treated with acupuncture and ultrasound.

Certainly defender Petter Hansson, who formed a formidable partnership with Olof Mellberg, said it could take Sweden some time to recover. "Losing a match like that lives with you," he said. "The Swedish dream is alive, there is no doubt about that, but I'll be thinking about those final seconds for a long time yet, believe me. We made a really good effort and I think that tells you much about this team. But if Torres and Villa have one chance each and score both of them, then that tells you they are world class."

Sweden (4-4-2): Isaksson (Manchester City); Stoor (Rosenborg), Mellberg (Juventus), Hansson (Rennes), M Nilsson (Panathinaikos); Elmander (Toulouse), Svensson (Elfsborg), Andersson (Malmo), Ljungberg (West Ham); Ibrahimovic (Internazionale), H Larsson (Helsingborgs). Substitutes used: Rosenberg (Werder Bremen) for Ibrahimovic, h-t; S Larsson (Birmingham City) for Elmander, 79; Kallstrom (Lyons) for H Larsson, 86.

Spain (4-4-2): Casillas (Real Madrid); Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Marchena (Valencia), Puyol (Barcelona), Capdevila (Villarreal); Silva (Valencia), Senna (Villarreal), Xavi (Barcelona), Iniesta (Barcelona); Torres (Liverpool), Villa (Valencia). Substitutes used: Albiol (Valencia) for Puyol, 24; Fabregas (Arsenal) for Xavi, 58; Santi Cazorla (Villarreal) for Iniesta, 58.

Referee: P Vink (Netherlands).

Booked: Sweden Svensson; Spain Marchena.

Man of the match: Mellberg.

Comments