Opponents may have figured out strategy vs. Spain
SEVILLE, Spain (AP) -- Opponents may be starting to figure out Spain.
In its last warm-up before the European Championship, the World Cup champion showed off all its virtues in a 1-0 victory over China on Sunday: possession, slick passing and intricate combinations. But the absences of David Villa and Carles Puyol were also glaring.
The Spanish defense was lucky to escape without conceding a goal after several lapses, and its wealth of midfield talent can be rendered ineffective without a striker capable of converting its numerous chances. Fernando Torres and Alvaro Negredo failed to score, a concern going into Sunday's Euro 2012 opener against Italy, a more formidable opponent.
It took Andres Iniesta's entrance after halftime to sway the game in Spain's favor, as the World Cup star linked up perfectly with David Silva for a late winner. The pair of playmakers jelled naturally while Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso struggled to break through China's disciplined defense.
"We're going into games well prepared. The thing is that our rivals are better prepared for us and make it more difficult," said Vicente del Bosque, who surpassed Luis Aragones as the longest-serving national team coach after his 55th match.
Iniesta, who scored the extra-time winner in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands, will be one of the linchpins of Spain's attack at the tournament with all-time leading scorer Villa missing.
"Andres makes everything easier," Silva said.
Spain's midfield is stacked with talent thanks to Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla, but Cesc Fabregas' return from a hamstring injury is important if Xavi is not in top form after a season spent battling a calf injury.
"The debate over the starting No. 9 will continue on to the end of the Euro," said Negredo, who failed to net two clear chances.
The parallels between Spain and Barcelona's style of play are evident, as are the methods being adapted by opponents against both.
Against Barcelona, Chelsea stood firm and disciplined on defense and converted its few counterattacks to eliminate the defending champions on course to winning the Champions League. That Barcelona squad, like Spain's, was overly reliant on its midfield talent and the talent of Lionel Messi with Villa missing.
The same defensive tactics were used by the Netherlands in the final in South Africa and are very likely to be employed again against the pre-tournament favorites by Group C rivals, which also include Ireland and Croatia.
"Spain believes in its qualities. It has absolute confidence in its style of play," said China coach Jose Antonio Camacho, who previously led Spain. "All teams will try to play like us against Spain - to defend well and try to take advantage of the counter."
Puyol and Villa turned down the chance to travel with the team to focus on recovering from their injuries in time for the start of the new season.
Several players tweeted Friday that the team was going offline as del Bosque wanted complete focus on the task of defending the European Championship title over posting messages or photos.
But on Monday, Spain internationals Fabregas, Mata, Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes were among those messaging fans and followers that the social media ban had been lifted.
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