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Gary Lim
Friday, Sep 12, 2014

Sports

Euro 2016: Spain's striking solution?

The New Paper | Gary Lim | Friday, Sep 12, 2014

A BETTER FIT? Paco Alcacer’s (above, left) more subtle style could be more suited for Spain’s tiki-taka approach than the brusque Diego Costa.

GROUP C

SPAIN 5 (Sergio Ramos 15-pen, Paco Alcacer 17, Sergio Busquets 45+3, David Silva 50, Pedro Rodriguez 90+1)

MACEDONIA 1 (Agim Ibraimi 28-pen)

On the back of a disastrous World Cup, Spain needed a big lift.

In the 5-1 victory over Macedonia yesterday morning (Singapore time), they got nothing more than a pick-me-up. Macedonia lacked the credentials and know-how to turn this fixture - both teams' opening game of the Euro 2016 qualifiers - into a true test. A boost, however, came in the form of a 21-year-old striker desperate to shine in his hometown.

Sparkle he did at the Ciutat de Valencia, as Paco Alcacer grabbed a goal and set up another on his competitive debut to signal his arrival on the international arena. The performance enhanced the Valencia striker's burgeoning reputation as one of the hottest young talents in Europe.

A young man's career is poised for take-off. Meanwhile, Spain may have stumbled upon an answer.

It's early days still, but Alcacer may just turn out to be the No. 9 they have been crying out for.

MARKSMAN

Spain have long been lacking a marksman, one who fits into their intricate system, ever since David Villa lost his edge after breaking his leg three years ago.

Fernando Torres' time had come early and gone even quicker. Fernando Llorente never convinced he could do the job. Alvaro Negredo, along with several others, have faded swiftly.

Coach Vicente del Bosque pinned his hopes on Diego Costa for the World Cup in Brazil.

So sure, although some would say desperate, was the Spain boss that he convinced Costa to ditch his Brazilian passport for a Spanish one.

But Costa merely added to the conundrum, bearing the brunt of the criticism as Spain hobbled crashed out of the tournament with tail tucked between legs.

Observers feel that Spain are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Costa is physical, prolific and well capable of running a brutal one-man show up front.

Chelsea snapped up the wonderful specimen from Atletico Madrid and he has repaid the faith with four goals in three English Premier League games.

SUBTLETY

But Spain's tiki-taka system requires a striker of more subtlety. Del Bosque has clearly not given up on Costa yet.

Alcacer, who received his first senior team call-up only 10 days ago, got his spot in the first 11 only because Costa picked up a thigh injury.

But, in 57 minutes of play, he showed all the qualities Spain need from their offensive reference point. Against Macedonia, he did everything Costa struggled to come up with.

The finesse returned to Spain's play in the final third, with Pedro Rodriguez, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas combining with the new Spain striker to form a fluid, dynamic attacking unit. The incisive passing and purposeful running of the rejuvenated Spanish outfit drove Macedonia into a corner that they struggled to get out of.

Alcacer was enjoying himself.

He's clever and quick, and he times his runs well and anticipates crosses.

Like how he got on the end of Juanfran's pass in the penalty box to put his side 2-0 up against Macedonia in the 17th minute.

He's not only strong enough to hold up play and win headers, but he's also fleet-footed enough to evade his markers.

The goal he set up amid close attention from a defender - a cushioned header for Sergio Busquets to lash in from outside the box in first-half injury time - demonstrated admirable power for his 1.74-metre frame.

If he hasn't won over del Bosque's heart with this display, then he would have at least made himself a genuine alternative to Costa.

garylim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on September 10, 2014.
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