Vicente del Bosque wasn't convinced.
Deep into Tuesday morning, after returning back to the Spanish team hotel and sifting through the media reaction from his homeland to the 1-0 win over Croatia, he popped the match DVD into the machine to draw his own conclusions.
His findings were rather different to the general consensus. Watching second time round, he claimed, was not nearly as bad as it had been pitch-side during the game. With the tension and fear of the Croats scoring the goal that would have provisionally put Spain out of the competition, it turned out that threat wasn't so severe after all.
Del Bosque may have a point. It is unlike him to rally back at the press in the manner he did on Tuesday. The fact his words the day were at odds with what he had said in the immediate aftermath of the game, where he accepted his side had not played well and had suffered before eventually sealing qualification, suggests he did indeed find some peace in that second viewing.
Moreover, the numbers would seem to confirm his assertion that the criticism has been over the top. Outside of points collected, where they finished behind only Germany, Spain came out of the group stages top of almost every quantifiable statistic: they scored more goals than anyone, conceded the least, unsurprisingly completed more passes than the other 15 sides, with a higher percentage of success and, even without a natural striker at times, had more shots on goal than the rest.
Yet, as Michael Cox neatly [stated after the Croatia game] (http://www.zonalmarking.net/2012/06/18/spain-1-0-croatia-navas-snatches-late-winner/), it is not that this Spanish side isn't great, it's that they leave you feeling only partly fulfilled.
With so much untapped potential on the bench you expect so much more from the XI on the field than they showed not only against the Croats, but for the first hour against Italy in the opening game. The argument goes that Spain's steady progress in Gdansk should come as no surprise. After all this is the team that won the World Cup on the back of four successive 1-0 victories. Yet, there has been a very noticeable difference between those displays two years ago and those of the past week.
At the World Cup the low-scoring wasn't Spain's prerogative but the opponent's. Time after time they sat deep and waited. Time and again the tiki-taka remained patient and precise before eventually picking the lock. Two years on and whilst the opponent's tactics have remained more or less the same (although both Italy and Croatia's gameplan would suggest a more daring tendency to press high) some of the zip in the passing has gone. Or, at least it had against Croatia.
Del Bosque also claimed the final group game had been ‘espantoso’ (horrible) because a draw would be enough to qualify, because of the Italian talk of a 2-2 conspiracy that would dump them out and because, despite being the team that needed to win, Croatia were the ones who played for a 0-0 for 70 minutes.
However, whilst that could explain in the interminably slow pace in the World champions build-up play with the ball on Monday night, it doesn't explain why they were so leaden footed in transition once they had lost possession. Routinely Croatian midfielders stormed past their Spanish counterparts on the break and indeed two of them, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, combined to create the best chance of the game, prior to Andres Iniesta providing Jesus Navas with an open goal three minutes from time.
That explanation appears to suggest the first signs of the biggest factor jeopardising Spain's chances of a historic Euros-World Cup-Euros hat-trick - fatigue. Navas' contribution from the bench is likely to be needed again against France this evening. Del Bosque's loyalty to the double pivote of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets means it is almost impossible for the Sevilla winger to start as places also have to be found for Iniesta, Xavi and David Silva, but the manager treasures Navas' ability to widen the pitch and stretch tiring defences later in the game.
The 26-year-old also has that ingredient Spain so lacked with his pace, which drags the likes of Iniesta, Xavi, Silva and Fabregas 10 yards closer to the opposition goal as he needs a target to pull the ball back to once he hits the by-line.
Another who could benefit from Navas' service and provide a different option is Fernando Llorente. Three times the Spanish support inside the PGE Arena called for his introduction against Croatia, three times they were ignored by Del Bosque who chose instead to return to a striker-less system and is yet to give the Athletic Bilbao man a minute on the field throughout the competition.
For all its beauty there is more than the pressing feeling that success has provoked a degree of stubbornness amongst those involved. The style is indisputable, and yet lost amongst the shower of self-congratulatory passing statistics is arguably Del Bosque's best ever call as Spain manager. Against an obdurate and dangerous Portuguese side in Cape Town, the former Real Madrid boss turned to a far more inexperienced and raw Llorente to offer another way, in a literal sense the high-way.
Llorente bashed and bullied Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves and his sheer presence created more space for the Xavi-Iniesta axis to probe and eventually combine to set David Villa free for the winning goal. If Spain are to ensure a repeat of that Iberian clash in the semi-finals their speed and concentration must return.
It could be argued so too should their long lost centre forward.
Kieran Canning is in Poland and Ukraine for the Euro 2012 tournament. Follow him on Twitter.
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