The paternal Del Bosque must choose which of his favourites to disappoint

Spain's beloved coach has a multiple selection problem as he tries to add the European title to his World Cup crown

On the final whistle of Spain's semi-final win over Portugal, Vicente del Bosque, after a quick handshake with the fourth official and opposing coach, headed straight down the tunnel without so much as an on-the-pitch embrace or a fist raised in victory.

He is not unaccustomed to reaching big finals and it was also in keeping with his reserved and dignified manner; but it may also have occurred to him that the hard work was still to be done. Tomorrow he can become the first coach ever to win the European Cup, World Cup and European Championship, but he has the biggest team selection of his life to get through first.

"When the players are good the manager is good," he says, batting away the accolades. That may be true – until you have so many good players it's impossible not to leave a couple of world-class performers on the bench.

Del Bosque had just seen how taking off Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez ahead of extra time had transformed his side for the better. The substitution that dare not speak its name had paid off despite the barrage of criticism that was instantly triggered by hooking probably the greatest Spain international of all time.

"The last decision was a big one," Del Bosque said when asked when he had felt most pressure during the semi-final. "There were still a lot of minutes left and the risk was huge." The reference was to leaving himself with no more possible changes to make and still half an hour to play but he also knows he would have been blamed had Spain lost in extra time without their vice-captain.

With two holding midfielders behind him in Sergi Busquets and Xabi Alonso, Xavi's style has been cramped somewhat. With neither a centre-forward runner nor an orthodox winger to feed through-balls to, his influence has waned. Yet the suggestion that he might start on the bench still verges to many on the blasphemous.

Immediately after the post-match press conference, Del Bosque called his son Alvaro. A Downs syndrome sufferer and unofficial mascot of the players who won the World Cup two years ago, Alvaro will fly into Ukraine with his family for the final. Xavi is his favourite player. Del Bosque will have to answer to his son and then the whole of Catalonia if he leaves him out tomorrow.

Cesc Fabregas is another dilemma. There is a special relationship between the 61-year-old coach and the former Arsenal captain, whose name he still struggles to pronounce. It's a standing joke that when the man from Salamanca refers to his Catalan midfielder it sounds ambiguous. "Sex was good" he seemed to say after the 1-1 Group C draw with Italy in which his 'false nine' got the equaliser.

Cesc, by his own admission, was not so good against Portugal when he replaced Alvaro Negredo, who had been even worse. The striker situation has not been resolved. Fabregas is at least full of confidence, having scored twice in open play and then converting the semi-final-winning spot-kick. Confidence is perhaps what has deserted Fernando Llorente after his two no-shows in the Europa League and Spanish Cup finals – how else to explain him not having played a single minute here so far?

Another who, like Fabregas, should be full of confidence is Fernando Torres. He has played and scored in three European Championship finals, at under-16, under-19 and senior level. His goal against Germany in 2008 was Spain's first step on the road to this unprecedented treble and after his second-half introduction against Italy he started the game against Ireland.

If the last game of this tournament is to be like the first – and such has been Italy's positive approach throughout that there is no reason to believe it won't be – then Spain with Torres leading their attack would surely pose more of a threat. And if inspirational substitute appearances are likely to force Del Bosque's first-team hand, Pedro Rodriguez could also get a start. His record in finals is also excellent, having scored in European Cup, Spanish and European Super Cup and World Club Cup finals for Barcelona.

If current form and records in finals are to guide Del Bosque, Pedro, Fabregas and Andres Iniesta should start behind Torres. If the coach looks more to pedigree and loyalty then Xavi and David Silva – so impressive in the group games – are undroppable and Pedro will have to accompany either Torres or Fabregas on the bench.

What is certain is that the back six of his team will remain unchanged. No team has ever reached the final of the tournament in its current format having conceded only one goal. "There are two sides to football – the defensive and offensive – and we are getting it completely right in the first of those two areas," says Del Bosque, who knows his back four minus Carles Puyol has surpassed expectations.

It was in Kiev in January 1999 that Del Bosque began his four years as Real Madrid coach in a 2-1 win over Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League. He won two European Cups and then the World Cup via the sack from Madrid. Tomorrow he can make further mockery of his treatment at the Bernabeu and pass the great German coach Helmut Schö*, the only manager so far to have won the European Championship and World Cup.

The much-loved boss of the defeated German side of the 1966 Wembley final had a not dissimilar manner with his players to Del Bosque. "In modern football this type of coach, so fatherly with his players, is impossible," said Franz Beckenbauer when Schö* died in 1996. Del Bosque's exchange with Fabregas as Spain prepared for penalties against Portugal was almost paternal, with the former holding up two fingers to indicate to the latter that he should take the second spot-kick; Fabregas then holding up five fingers and Del Bosque – after listening to some brief impassioned reasoning from the player – shrugging his shoulders to indicate, 'OK kid, you know best'.

Tomorrow the decision will be Del Bosque's. And some of his favourite sons will end up feeling left out.

Del Bosque: Life and times

Born in Salamanca, Spain, on 23 December, 1950

Played for Real Madrid for 14 years, winning five La Liga titles and four Copa Del Rey trophies, including two double-winning seasons. A defensive midfielder, Del Bosque scored 14 times while at the Bernabeu.

Capped 18 times for his country, playing in the 1980 European Championship, when Spain were knocked out in the group stages.

Managed Real Madrid between 1999 and 2003, winning the Champions League and La Liga twice, the Uefa Super Cup and World Club Championship. Spent less than a year at Besiktas before taking charge of Spain following their Euro 2008 win.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam