For sixty minutes or so, it looked as if all of our predictions had gone wrong. Last week, Spain had been pretty damn impressive – fluid going forward, comfortable and tight at the back. Just the right balance. Earlier this evening, Ukraine had dumped all over Saudi Arabia in a match every bit as one-sided as that between Argentina and Serbia. All of this seemed to indicate that this match would be another massacre.
Of course, all of these predictions were premature, but we probably should have guessed that. If Germany 06 has proved anything so far, it has been that we should start to expect the unexpected. No-one is safe. France, Italy and the Czechs have had their fingers burnt. Brazil and England came perilously close. Spain, if they were feeling complacent before the match, would be foolish if they are again. As it stands, they’re through to the second round with a bit to spare, but it could have been quite different.
In the first half, Spain were poor. They seemed to be having difficulty finding the final ball, and on the few occasions that they did get it right, Torres and Sergio Garcia seemed to be having an off-night. It all looked if it was going horribly wrong after eight minutes, when Mnari scored for Tunisia. Commentator Jonathan Pearce commended Casillas for saving the first shot, but it looked more like a spill to me. Mnari made no mistake with the rebound.
It might be worth Sven-Goran Eriksson having a bit of a chat with Luis Aragones before England play Sweden tomorrow night. Aragones might be a dreadful old racist, but he’s got the knack of substitutes down to a fine art. Bringing on Fabregas and Raul for Senna and Garcia at half-time was a master-stroke. From the start of the second half, Spain looked more like a team, and it felt like it was only a matter of time before they got back into things. They made their fans sweat, though – seventy-one minutes had passed before Raul tapped in from close range to level things up. Thereafter, the floodgates opened. No questions about the penalty, though Torres was lucky to score with a spot-kick that Boumnijel should have saved. In the dying seconds, Boumnijel earned himself the soubriquet “Hapless” by racing to the edge of the penalty area for a ball that he had little chance of getting. Torres, who might just end up being the Paolo Rossi of this World Cup, took it round him and finished the job off.
So, Spain made hard work of it, but came through okay. They still look impressive, in no small part thanks to their wide range of attacking options. Tunisia can still qualify if they beat Ukraine, and I think that the Ukrainians relative lack of fire-power might just make them ripe to be upset. If the Tunisians can build on the positives from this performance and not dwell too hard on a final quarter in which they clearly, visibly tired, they might just make things very difficult for the eastern Europeans.