Patrick Barclay: Smiles at the double as Spain striker Fernando Torres finally ends the long wait

 

PGE Arena

On a dank night by the Baltic, the smile was back on Fernando Torres' face as he scored his first goals in a major tournament since the winner in the European Championship final against Germany four years ago.

It has been a long and frustrating wait, but things do appear to be falling into place once more for the erstwhile golden boy of the European game, an idol at Liverpool who suddenly turned into a £50m misfit upon switching allegiance to Chelsea at the end of January last year.

The curse of Roman Abramovich's favour could be said to have descended on him just as, a few years earlier, it had afflicted Andrei Shevchenko, another of the Russian's vanity purchases. But Shevchenko has flowered again in this tournament and last night Torres, too, rolled back time. First, he pounced on Richard Dunne's worthy but incomplete tackle on David Silva, gliding past Stephen Ward as if the left-back didn't exist before leaving Shay Given to stick up hopeful hands as the ball flashed past them.

Only four minutes had gone and Torres was actually smiling. Not the smile he felt obliged to summon after the Champions League final, in which he had been used as a substitute and forced the corner from which Didier Drogba headed Chelsea into extra- time. So Drogba overshadowed him that night, as on most occasions during the previous 16 months. But now Drogba is leaving Stamford Bridge and the centre-forward's shirt is attainable.

He has Spain's shirt now, surely, for the final group match against Croatia, after being withdrawn shortly after taking Silva's pass, running on and calmly collecting a second goal 20 minutes from the end.

There had been signs before this that the worst might be over for Torres: the breakaway goal that sealed Barcelona's fate in the Champions League semi-finals, for instance. But an opportunity to move his country closer to the knockout stages of the competition that let Spain banish their reputation for under-achievement in 2008 mattered every bit as much and he certainly made the most of it.

The feeling was all the sweeter for his having been left out of the starting line-up against Italy, when Vicente del Bosque used Cesc Fabregas as a "false No 9'' (Fabregas scored in a 1-1 draw and Torres wasted openings when he came on).

Now the tension had lifted with the early goal. Torres might have beaten Given again soon afterwards, before being obliged to queue with team-mates for the chances that were almost monotonously fashioned.

Spain's second goal also came four minutes into the second half, David Silva performing with a rapier what Torres had done with a bludgeon. Even the Irish massed on the steep slopes of the Arena fell temporarily silent, while gaping in awe at the one-handed flying save with which Given defied Xavi. The shot would have beaten most goalkeepers. Other attempts by Spain to improve their goal difference were less impressive.

The suspicion is that Spain will have to finish more clinically than against the Irish – for all that they made it look the biggest mismatch imaginable in the final stages of a tournament – to go all the way this year.

We saw in a friendly at Wembley seven months ago, when Frank Lampard alone scored, that their ratio of passes to goals can be excessive and the fact that they are a combination of Real Madrid and Barcelona without the penetrative arts of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is the most obvious explanation.

With David Villa still injured, Torres emerged last night as the most promising solution.

 

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