World Cups are always a torment for Spain, but perhaps not this time. In phases on Wednesday - when they defeated Ukraine 4-0 - they looked the most appealing side of the tournament so far besides the Czechs. History teaches us that they will go home early, but we can enjoy them now.
As for Ukraine, their coach Oleg Blokhin said it all: ?At times we played like the worst team in Europe. I cannot put up with players who do not have the will. They did not respect the advice from their coaches. We always seemed to be playing with a little delay. I apologise to all Ukrainian fans. Players who do not want to be on the pitch will not be picked in future.?
Spain gave a demonstration of modern attacking play, and France and Brazil might study the video. The Leipzig heat barely bothered them. This was total football, with midfielders pushing forward and players taking turns to pop up on
The decision to leave Ra?l on the bench was swiftly justified. The forwards Fernando Torres, 22, and David Villa, 24, showed their youth, constantly moving into space and tackling Ukrainian defenders.
?Torres has a tremendous degree of fitness,? noted Spain?s coach Luis Aragon?s. The same could not be said of, say, Ronaldo.
Blokhin singled out Spain?s midfield for praise. Xavi and Marcos Senna guided attacks with neat passing, and Xavi was named man of the match.
The show began on 12 minutes, when Senna walked past two defenders and from distance forced an uncertain save from Oleksandr Shovkovskyi. It is hard to believe that such a big country does not possess a better goalkeeper. From Xavi?s resulting corner, Xabi Alonso?s header crept in at the near post.
With barely 15 minutes played, Andriy Rusol?s crazed two-footed tackle gave away a free-kick. David Villa?s kick deflected off the wall, wrongfooting Shovkovskyi for a second goal.
The Ukrainians had complained of frogs disturbing their sleep at their Potsdam hotel. That might explain it. Their sole big name, Andriy Shevchenko, was hurried back for this game but his knee appeared imperfectly healed. And there is little point having Shevchenko if you do not give him the ball.
After their first bewildering flurry, Spain retreated. Each time the Ukrainians threatened in the first half, the linesman hindered them with unjust offsides. Like Germany, Spain might
have to ration their wonky offside trap.
A minute after half-time it was all over. Villa put Torres through, Ukraine?s defence parted magically, and Torres shot against Shovkovskyi. But the Swiss referee Massimo Busacca had spotted a foul invisible to others. He sent off Ukraine?s defender Vladyslav Vaschuk and awarded the first penalty of the World Cup.
This was harsh. Closer inspection revealed that Vaschuk had tugged gently at Torres?s shorts without achieving much. Villa converted the penalty.
After that, Spain decelerated. Ra?l was allowed on for Villa after 54 minutes, and passed well. Spain?s fourth goal, 10 minutes from time, was the best. Barcelona?s Carles Puyol intercepted a pass, powered through two tackles, exchanged passes and then headed down for Torres to blast home.
With games against Tunisia and Saudi Arabia ahead, Spain are virtually in the second round already, and even Blokhin?s men may get there too.