Torres, or “El Nino” as he is affectionately known, destroyed New Zealand in just 11 first-half minutes in Spain’s opening Confederations Cup game against the Kiwis in South Africa.
Tallies from Torres in the sixth, 11th and 17th minutes came as no surprise to anyone who follows the game - if anything, many people expected him to score more against the minnows from New Zealand. Yet Torres’ three markers perfectly demonstrated the breadth of his goal-scoring abilities.
The first was a brilliant turn and finish from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Yes, the defender - former Toronto FC misfit Andy Boyens - should have been much tighter than he was, not gifting Torres the freedom to face goal; but it was still a wonderful strike into the top right corner that gave Kiwi keeper Glen Moss no chance.
The second Torres goal was a demonstration of his anticipation and movement.
A lovely cutback from strike partner David Villa, who later added the fifth goal in the 5-0 rout, found its way past the five Kiwi defenders in the box to land on the foot of Torres, who dutifully dispatched the ball into the bottom right corner.
Torres did what all good strikers do in the box; he took up the position most likely to end with him putting the ball in the back of the net. Never mind that it meant Torres had to drag himself away from the goal to make room for Villa to pick him out – a lesser striker would have charged into the near-post space. Torres operates on a different level than most strikers, which is why he found the time and space to finish when there were white Kiwi jerseys all around him.
The third Torres goal was a powerful header from a tantalizing cross by Joan Capdevila from the left hand side.
Execution key inside box
I’ve always believed that if your wide players deliver the ball into the right areas, it is up to the strikers to execute inside the box. If the strikers fail to put the ball in the back of the net, it certainly won’t be down to a lack of service.
With Torres, failing to finish is rarely a worry. When Capdevila delivered, so too did Torres, who timed his run to perfection and smashed his header into the top left corner. Not a bad return for 11 minutes work, was it?
Nigel Reed asked me an excellent question as all of this was unfolding. He wondered exactly how a defender could stop someone like Torres, who has pace, strength, intelligence and an eye for goal?
Torres impossible to defend 1-on-1
My answer was simple; you can’t.
You see it takes more than one player to contain someone like Fernando Torres. Even if you can match his athleticism, and you man-mark him all over the pitch, he is clever enough to use himself as a decoy to make space for his teammates. If you try to smother him for 90 minutes, he will run you to the hot dog stand and back, allowing others to utilize the space he vacates. And it’s not like Spain is short of quality players who can exploit that space, is it?
The only way to effectively contain someone like Torres is through a collective effort. You need to ensure that you are compact defensively, from front to back and side to side. Whenever he picks up the ball, you need to have someone right on top of him, denying him space. Your central midfielders have to work extremely hard, as they need to double-up on him every time he gets the ball into his feet around the box. And you need to be physical with him; there aren’t many strikers out there who like getting tackled hard whenever they get the ball.
Having said all that, it is much easier said than done. There are only a handful of teams in the world right now capable of containing someone like Fernando Torres. On their best days, perhaps Italy, Germany, England, Brazil, Argentina and the Netherlands could pull it off.
While they might be able to contain Torres over 90 minutes, there remains the minor problem of what to do about the other 10 Spanish players on the pitch. Villa, Fabregas, Xavi and Xabi Alonso are all phenomenal talents, not to mention the injured stars such as Iniesta and Senna.
Without a doubt, Spain deserves to be the No. 1 ranked team in the world right now. They are favourites to win not only the Confederations Cup, but also the World Cup in one year’s time, when the eyes of the world will be on them. Even in New Zealand.
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