The last time Vicente del Bosque's Spain faced Portugal in a competitive match they won 1-0 and the Marquis showed one of the little finesses which have helped make him a serial winner for club and country. It transpires, you see, that the 61-year-old has a particular knack of pulling a joker out of the pack.
Back then it was the 58th minute in Cape Town and he shuffled Fernandos – Llorente for Torres. The game had been frustrating. Spain were being rebuffed but within minutes Llorente had a terrific diving header on goal from a Sergio Ramos cross.
Shortly after, Spain took the lead and Llorente went on to tie the Portuguese defence in knots – something he also managed against Sporting Clube de Portugal in the UEFA Europa League this season – for the remainder of the match. His introduction utterly changed the game. In the FIFA World Cup final it was a cross from substitute Torres that found fellow replacement Cesc Fàbregas, whose pass allowed Andrés Iniesta to score that glorious winner.
Cut to UEFA EURO 2012. Against the Republic of Ireland, Fàbregas entered the fray late on and scored, while in the Croatia match he came off the bench once more and clipped a lovely pass to free Iniesta, who fed substitute Jesús Navas for the goal that won Group C. Want more evidence?
When it came to the quarter-final the match was taken out of France's reach when Santi Cazorla sent fellow substitute Pedro Rodríguez into the box on a run which ended in a penalty and Xabi Alonso's second goal. It's quite a knack if you can keep your goal unbreached – Spain have not conceded in eight major tournament knockout matches – and consistently bring on players who can produce goals or assists.
If you want to be scientific then perhaps it's no more than a factor of how many world-class footballers Del Bosque has at his disposal. Juan Mata, a UEFA Champions League and FA Cup winner this season, hasn't played a minute at this tournament.
However, I think we can accept that when Del Bosque talks about phases within a game, and how the latter stage of a semi-final is "a completely different match to the first hour", he knows precisely what he is talking about. As Kenny Rogers sang in The Gambler: "You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them …" But you also need to know the precise moment to produce and play the joker. Over to the Marquis.
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