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
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
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

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering