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Semi-finalist profile: Spain

Published: Monday 25 June 2012, 15.00CET
Spain have yet to find their scintillating peak form, yet the holders remain in fine fettle and will take some stopping if they are not to regain the title won four years ago.
by Graham Hunter
from Gniewino
Published: Monday 25 June 2012, 15.00CET

Semi-finalist profile: Spain

Spain have yet to find their scintillating peak form, yet the holders remain in fine fettle and will take some stopping if they are not to regain the title won four years ago.

Spain have been expectedly impressive so far, if not spectacular – putting on a particularly eye-catching display against the Republic of Ireland before seeing off France in comfortable fashion in the quarter-finals. They remain intent on playing possession football, a style that is taking them ever closer to becoming the first side to win a third straight major international tournament.

Tactics: Spain have started all their games in a 4-3-3 formation, with both full-backs regularly pushing higher up the pitch and one of the pivotal midfielders, Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso, dropping in between Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos to let La Roja play an attacking 3-4-3 when possible. The debate has never been about tactical shape, but rather whether a traditional centre-forward or the floating 'false No9' represented by Cesc Fàbregas is more beneficial.

Key man: Andrés Iniesta, so integral to Spain for years, has raised the bar once more – and to stand out in this remarkable group of footballers takes something pretty special. Almost without exception, he has the last or penultimate touch before a goal is scored and he has twice lifted the Carlsberg Man of the Match award. "The years pass, you learn, accept more responsibility and now I'm in a good moment where I feel fine in the Spain team – I hope it lasts a long time," Iniesta told UEFA.com.

EURO semi-final record:

17/06/1964 Spain 2-1 Hungary (Madrid)

24/06/1984 Denmark 1-1 Spain (aet, Spain win 5-4 on pens) (Lyon)

26/06/2008 Russia 0-3 Spain (Vienna)

Basecamp: This is predominantly the same squad of players that won the 2010 FIFA World Cup and not only are they used to living together for four or five weeks, they relish each other's company. Cards, table tennis, darts, remote-control cars, swimming, laughter, music and regular days off granted by coach Vicente del Bosque are a recipe for time not dragging. Xavi Hernández, Iker Casillas and Del Bosque sat down to ensure there were no issues hanging over from the domestic season and have patently done a good job.

Record in Donetsk: Spain are visiting Donetsk for only the second time after Saturday's quarter-final. However, their FC Barcelona contingent know the city pretty well – Víctor Valdés, Piqué, Xavi and Busquets won 1-0 against FC Shakhtar Donetsk at the Donbass Arena in the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, with Valdés, Piqué, Xavi and Iniesta having also featured in a 2-1 victory over the Pitmen at their previous stadium in the 2008/09 group stage.

However, Valdés, Iniesta and Xavi may prefer to forget their 2004/05 group stage visit, when a 2-0 defeat made Barcelona the only Spanish side to have lost a game in Donetsk. The overall record for Spanish clubs in the city is W3 D3 L1, with other current internationals to have played there including Raúl Albiol and David Silva, who figured in a 2-2 draw at Shakhtar with Valencia CF in the 2006/07 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Room for improvement: The loss of David Villa and Carles Puyol has stripped Spain of the men who scored six of their eight goals in winning the World Cup and, occasionally, converting chances has been a problem during this tournament. When Silva and Fàbregas play up front together, there is a lack of searing pace.

The view from home: "Ooh la la Xabi" is one of the best headlines so far, celebrating the fact Xabi Alonso marked his 100th cap with both goals in Spain's 2-0 quarter-final success against France. "We've managed to make the abnormal normal by winning so much," was Iniesta's way of summing up the extent of Spain's achievements to date.

Mission statement: "Losing isn't a disaster; what would be a disaster is abandoning our football philosophy – which we'll never do." Iniesta, Xavi, Del Bosque and many, many others in the squad.

Last updated: 26/10/12 15.37CET

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