All of a sudden, there’s considerably more room on Spain’s bandwagon as it prepares for Euro 2012.
It was announced on Tuesday that David Villa, Spain’s all-time leading scorer and the joint top scorer at the 2010 World Cup, had fallen short in his bid to recover from a broken left shin he sustained at the Club World Cup in December. It was left to manager Vicente Del Bosque to deliver the bad news, in spite of Villa’s best efforts to regain his fitness.
Without question, the loss of Villa is a severe blow. When Spain struggled to get through the group stages in South Africa, it was Villa who delivered the crucial goals. His excellent form continued into the knockout rounds, as he scored in Spain’s round-of-16 win over Portugal, as well as the quarterfinal victory over Paraguay. Now, without the Barcelona attacker, Spain’s path out of a group that includes Italy, Croatia, and Ireland looks that much more difficult. Combined with the absence of defender Carles Puyol, some pundits have even suggested that Spain might not advance.
That seems to be overstating things, as Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque has plenty of options to replace Villa. David Silva is coming off a largely excellent campaign with Premier League champion Manchester City, although he did fade a bit during the second half of the season. Juan Mata is fresh off winning the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea, while Cesc Fabregas just concluded a season with Barcelona in which he was deployed further up field than in previous campaigns with Arsenal. Sevilla’s Jesus Navas is another option if Del Bosque prefers a pure winger, the better to serve crosses to the likes of Fernando Llorente or Fernando Torres.
Out of that quartet, Silva is poised to be the biggest beneficiary, and this tournament could see him break out of the bit part role that was handed to him in South Africa. The big question is whether Silva can deliver the goals – or perhaps lay them on for Llorente, Torres, or Roberto Soldado – that Villa provided in tournaments past. Clearly, Silva is less of an out-and-out goalscorer than Villa, as evidenced by the fact that the Manchester City attacker tallied just six times in 36 matches this season. That said, who is? And Silva did lead his club with 15 assists. He also scored four goals for Spain during qualifying, and his increased playing time revealed that he is clearly in Del Bosque’s thoughts.
Spain will have three friendly matches to better determine if Silva – or Mata or Fabregas or Navas – is indeed the answer, starting with Saturday’s match against Serbia. That will be followed by a game against South Korea on May 30 before the final tune-up against China four days later.